May 5, 2021
“No one should have to choose between a job and a paycheck or taking care of themselves and their loved ones, a parent, spouse, a child.”
For care advocates, who have spent decades fighting for state and federal policies that provide relief to working families, mothers, and children, hearing that line from President Joe Biden during his joint address to Congress felt like a long overdue victory.
“I really had to take a couple of pauses [during the speech] because I just thought wow, we are really moving on this,” said Chineva Smith, a senior organizer with the Wisconsin chapter of 9to5 during a panel hosted by Family Values @ Work. “It’s one of those moments we never thought would come, but it’s finally here.”
Family Values @ Work is a national coalition of local organizations across 27 states working to make child care more accessible and paid leave for all a reality. To date, the coalition has won paid sick days for workers in 54 locations and paid family and medical leave in 10 states. All told, care advocates have helped 55 million people win paid leave at the state level over the last 17 years.
That number may soon increase exponentially.
During the April 28 speech, Biden unveiled his landmark American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion investment in the nation’s care infrastructure paid for by increasing taxes on wealthy individuals.
Included in Biden’s plan is one of the largest expansions to the U.S. social safety net in decades — a new federal paid leave policy for all workers, which the administration says can be used “to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill loved one, deal with a loved one’s military deployment, find safety from sexual assault, stalking, or domestic violence, heal from their own serious illness or take time to deal with the death of a loved one.”
Phased in over a 10-year period, the American Families Plan would guarantee workers 12 weeks of paid leave, providing up to $4,000 a month, with a minimum of two-thirds of average weekly wages replaced, rising to 80 percent for the lowest wage workers. This expansion in benefits is likely to have the largest impact on low-wage workers, 95 percent of whom lack any access to paid family leave.
In addition to finally cementing paid leave protections for families, the American Families Plan would also provide funding for universal pre-school and ensure that families earning 1.5 times their state median income will spend no more than 7 percent of their income on child care for their young children, though some Democrats in Congress are pushing the administration to think bigger and bolder when it comes to universal child care.
The American Families Plan builds off of Biden’s previously announced American Jobs Plan which, in addition to providing funding for better roads and revitalized manufacturing, also rightfully acknowledges that care work is a vital part of our nations infrastructure. It also builds off of the administration’s $400 billion investment in the American Jobs Plan to expand access to quality, affordable home or community-based care for aging and disabled Americans.
All of this amounts to a whole lot that care advocates have to celebrate, but they are not immune to the political reality they face in the months to come. Despite the fact that a majority of Americans support Biden’s spending proposals, the elite view this tax-and-spend approach as a threat to their wealth. Venture capitalist J.D. Vance went as far as describing universal child care as “class war against normal people,” offering instead Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-MO) bill that would provide a $1,000 monthly “parent tax credit” to married families only, a proposal which ignores single-parent families who are more likely to live below the poverty line.
“We have a mountain of organizing to do,” said Dawn Hucklebridge, director of Paid Leave for All. “More outreach, more storytelling and more pressure, and more work, but I think this pandemic has forced people to confront the tension that the way we are working now is not sustainable […] We need to fight for every dollar.”
Rebekah Entralgo is managing editor of Inequality.org. You can follow her on Twitter at @rebekahentralgo.