PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – “I struggled, had surgery, struggled to pay bills. Had to come back much sooner than I was supposed to,” says Deborah Blackwell of Bellevue.
Blackwell, who has cleaned offices for 22 years, got unpaid medical leave from her employer for surgery but could not afford to stay out of work very long without pay.
“(Came back) six weeks sooner than I was supposed to,” Blackwell told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Thursday.
“I’m still struggling from some of the problems from the surgery because I came back too soon because financially I could not afford to stay out there.”
She’s hardly alone.
The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires companies with over 50 employees to provide unpaid medical and family leave to employees, but it’s hard for employees to go very long without a pay check.
Nationwide, only 14 percent of employees have paid medical or family leave to care for a child, themselves, or a family member.
“But 100 percent of workers are going to need paid medical or family leave at some point in their lives, right,” notes Heather Arnet, CEO of the Women & Girls Foundation, and a strong supporter of paid family leave.
“At some point, all of us are going to need care or we’re going to need to care for somebody. And one thing we know in this state is that family wants to take care of family.”
That’s why a bi-partisan coalition of lawmakers introduced the Family Care Act to create a dedicated fund to pay up to 20 weeks of medical leave for every worker who does not have access to paid leave.
Depending on your current wage, an employee on paid leave could receive up $1,900 a week.
“A majority of American workers cannot survive more than two weeks without a pay check without having substantial problems in their daily life,” says Pa. Rep. Dan Miller, a Mt. Lebanon Democrat, one of the prime sponsors of the House Bill. Both the Senate (SB 580) and the House (HB 1739) have Republican and Democratic sponsors.
To pay for this paid leave, all workers in Pennsylvania would pay approximately 0.5 percent of earned income into the fund.
That’s about $100 for every $20,000 of income.
On Tuesday, the state Senate’s Committee on Labor and Industry, chaired by Pa. Sen. Camera Bartolotta, a Washington County Republican, held hearings on the proposal.
“This would be so beneficial for all us working people,” says Blackwell.
Bartolotta told KDKA’s Jon Delano that the measure is controversial, but she really hopes lawmakers can find with some modifications and compromise a bill that will enact paid family medical leave in Pennsylvania.