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After Capitol Rally, Paid Leave Back in Social Spending Bill

November 3, 2021 by Reece Nations
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Murray who was elected in 1992 as a self described "mom in tennis shoes," has been fighting for paid family and medical leave for decades. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday in a Dear Colleague letter that she is requesting paid family and medical leave be added back into Democrats’ proposed Build Back Better framework.

After weeks of back-and-forth priority shifting and despite objections from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Pelosi said she requested Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass. — who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee — to include paid family leave legislation in its Wednesday hearing so that it may be added to the infrastructure package.

Prior to this development, supporters for paid leave policy took to the Capitol on Tuesday to urge Congressional leaders to reintroduce the policy back into the social spending bill. Speakers at the all-day event shared stories and words of encouragement from beneath umbrellas amid drizzly weather, and many told the audience of advocates that work was still left to be done on the roughly $1.75 trillion domestic policy package.

Dawn Huckelbridge, director of the Hopewell Fund’s Paid Leave for All, urged supporters on Capitol Hill not to lose hope in the fight for the policy’s inclusion in President Joe Biden’s sweeping infrastructure agenda. The next day, the supporter’s calls for the policy’s reinstatement were met with approval from House leadership. 

“We are fighting not just for a line item in a package,” Huckelbridge said to the crowd gathered on Tuesday. “We are not fighting just for dollars. We are fighting for human lives. We are fighting for babies who need to be held, for parents who don’t have to die alone, for businesses that can stay open, for jobs that can be saved, [and for] COVID cases prevented. We want to remember why we are fighting.”

Huckelbridge went on to share her own personal experience of how paid maternal leave impacted her life after giving birth. The event featured remarks from 21 members of Congress, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. 

Advocates were invited to share their personal experiences alongside spokespersons from advocacy groups such as the National Women’s Law Center, the Anti-Poverty Advocacy at Center for American Progress and the Center for Law and Social Policy. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., said she commiserated with the policy’s supporters at the event due to her own experiences with health problems and caring for loved ones.

“This is a no-brainer, paid family leave ought to be a part of this package,” Moore said to the cluster of people gathered in the rain. “And let me tell you, it ought to be a part of this package without limitations — paid leave for all.”

In addition to sharing personal anecdotes, speakers shared personal testimonies from individuals around the country who could not be at the event in person. Houlahan, who serves on the House Small Business Committee, shared stories gathered from her constituents that echoed the same sentiments in support of the policy which is popular and prevalent throughout other developed nations around the world.

At the event, Neal reminded the crowd that his committee had previously passed legislation approving 12 weeks of paid family leave for inclusion in the omnibus package. Further, Neal said the proposal had been well-received by groups representing both unions and big businesses around the country.

“The most stubborn statistic as we look at labor participation rates is the number of women who left the workforce because they had to choose between childcare and work — and there was nothing in the middle,” Neal said. “This was sound policy, well supported by the American people and nothing that we did was more important than the whole idea of paid family leave.” 

Reece can be reached at [email protected].

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