Small businesses need real paid family and medical leave

Small businesses need real paid family and medical leave

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On almost every issue, politicians like to talk about the needs of Main Street businesses like mine, but it’s the rare one who puts out policies that reflect our needs and values.

The issue of paid family and medical leave is a case-in-point.

A good paid leave program would allow all of us — employees and business owners alike — to take time away from work to care for ailing loved ones, welcome a new child, or recover from an illness or injury.

It would give us the security of knowing that taking time to care won’t put us into debt or out of a job, and it won’t cost us our business.

We don’t have a national program like this now, but we desperately need one.

It’s the kind of solution that would help people of all races and all incomes — the kind of program that shows how much we can accomplish when we work together to address our challenges and make our country more equal.

In July, the Senate held a hearing on paid leave, and lawmakers expressed lots of concern for how a paid leave program would affect small businesses.

That includes one of my own senators, Joni Ernst, who said, “Working families by definition are an essential part of many businesses.”

That’s certainly true. So, why are Senator Ernst and her colleagues failing us all so terribly?

A bill currently in the Senate, the FAMILY Act, would provide paid time away from work to care for a loved one or oneself. But so far no Republican, Senator Ernst included, has signed on to the bill despite strong bipartisan public support for such a program.

Instead, Senator Ernst has flirted with a proposal that would offer only parental leave, requiring those who use the leave to draw from their Social Security and postpone retirement.

Senator Ernst’s colleague Sen. Marco Rubio has turned that proposal into a bill, which he introduced recently.

That legislation only covers new parents, raids Social Security and provides a very low wage replacement rate to the average worker. It excludes the vast majority of working people who need paid leave to take care of their own or a family member’s medical needs. Three-quarters of people who take paid family or medical leave had to care for their own health or that of a seriously ill family member.

Senator Rubio’s proposal will also eat into retirement security for the parents who use it. Workers of color are less likely to have paid leave through their employer now, and because they are more reliant upon Social Security as their sole source of incomes, this proposal especially fails those most in need.

So far, Senator Ernst isn’t cosponsoring this legislation, but she hasn’t supported the FAMILY Act, either.

If she really does understand how essential working families are to Main Street businesses, she needs to stand with us all — small business owners and our employees — by signing onto the FAMILY Act.

Main Street businesses can’t afford paid leave on our own. Just like with health care, banding together to create a bigger risk pool, makes this insurance for family leave affordable.

But this benefit shouldn’t be reserved for big corporations. The FAMILY helps level the playing field through a 0.2 percent contribution — or roughly $1.50 per week — made by employers and employees from each paycheck to a shared fund to cover up to two-thirds of earnings for as long as 12 weeks.

A strong majority of small businesses support this kind of program.

The FAMILY Act helps workers and small businesses across the board.

It doesn’t limit paid leave to new parents or ask people to choose between taking care of a new child and their future retirement.

It’s a real solution that puts the interest of Main Street business owners and employees first, whether white, black or brown.

It’s the kind of solution that politicians will support if they want Main Street businesses and communities to thrive.

ReShonda Young is owner of gourmet popcorn franchise Popcorn Heaven, headquartered in Waterloo, with locations in Kansas City, Mo., Peoria, Ill., Charlotte, N.C., and soon in Waldorf, Md., and Pasadena, Calif. She serves on the executive committee of Main Street Alliance, a national network of small business owners.


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