Over the last year, I’ve seen how unprepared state and federal governments were to handle a national pandemic. Many of us found ourselves in a reactionary environment where relief packages and stimulus checks were being handed out without a real understanding of what the impact would be. Now, we are seeing businesses struggle to find employees as states and municipalities begin to re-open. People are hesitant to re-enter the workforce without some kind of security and promise that they will be protected when America is hit with the next crisis.
As the former mayor of Branson, I work with people from all walks of life and political beliefs to get the job done. I think about my friend Mandy, whose husband became seriously ill with COVID-19 in December and has been unable to work since. Just a few months of missed work left their bills astronomically high, and because they had insurance, they did not qualify for CARES Act funding for their hospital bills. Something as simple as a paid leave policy would have helped them stay on top of their bills and focus on receiving the care they needed without forcing Mandy to work through a traumatic, life-altering experience.
This isn’t a new concept. Paid family leave was a part of President Donald Trump’s American Working Families policy portfolio because he knew the importance of taking time to care for newborn children, sick family members, and your own physical or mental health. If President Trump’s plan had passed, we would have found ourselves in a much more stable environment and better equipped to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the current administration has proposed a paid medical and family leave policy guaranteeing at least 12 weeks of paid leave for all caregivers across the country. As a business owner and proud conservative woman, I believe this is a great step forward to continuing the work of the Trump administration in addressing the need for paid family and medical leave.
Ten states have passed paid family and medical leave programs, but 80 percent of U.S. employees still do not have access to paid family and medical leave through their employers. This is a bi-partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats both understand that no person should have to choose between caring for their sick child or receiving a paycheck. We must establish a comprehensive and inclusive paid leave program so that mental and physical health are not being compromised in order to make ends meet. For years we have been in desperate need of a permanent solution for working people, and the pandemic has only increased this awareness for paid family and medical leave.
At some point in everyone’s life, no matter which party you support, you will need to either give or receive care — whether parenting your children, taking care of older family members, or fighting your way through a chronic disease. It’s time for the right and left to rally together to make paid family leave a reality for all American families. As policymakers in the only country in the world without paid parental leave, Senators Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley should make it a top priority to support the federal proposal for paid leave.
Karen Best is the former mayor of Branson.