Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, has written to the US Congress calling for paid leave for parents to be written into federal law.
While some states, including California, New York and New Jersey, require private sector employers to offer paid maternity leave, around one in five default to the Family and Medical Leave Act which only requires 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new mothers. A handful of states have laws offering paid paternity leave.
The duchess, who gave birth to Lilibet Diana in June, has written to Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, and Chuck Schumer, the majority leader in the Senate, asking them to include a provision in President Joe Biden’s social spending bill.
“I’m writing to you on behalf of millions of American families who are using their voices to say that comprehensive paid leave should not be a place to compromise or negotiate,” she writes. “In fact, most nations already have paid leave policies in place. Estonia, for example, offers over a year and a half of leave to be shared by new parents.
“Many other countries have robust programs that give months of time for both parents (birth or adoptive) to be home with their child. The United States, in stark contrast, does not federally guarantee any person a single day of paid leave. And fewer than one in four workers has dedicated paid family leave through their employer.”
Maternity leave in the US
Writing not as a politician but “as a mom”, the duchess said that the Covid-19 pandemic had exposed long-existing fault lines in society with millions of women dropping out of work to care for their children.
“The working mom or parent is facing the conflict of being present or being paid. The sacrifice of either comes at a great cost,” she says in her open letter.
Paid leave, argues Meghan, should be a national right, rather than a “patchwork option” limited to those whose employers have policies in place, or those who live in one of the few states where a leave programme exists.
“If we’re going to create a new era of family first policies, let’s make sure that includes a strong paid leave programme for every American that’s guaranteed, accessible, and encouraged without stigma or penalty.”
Meghan’s appeal comes as Democrats look to pare back Biden’s $3.5 trillion social spending proposals, which initially included mandating workers 12 weeks’ paid family and medical leave. Party leaders are looking to scale back the plans in an effort to make it more acceptable to more moderate members.
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