USCCB Should Propose Paid Maternity Leave

USCCB Should Propose Paid Maternity Leave December 17, 2019

Man holding baby
Man holding baby (CC0 Jude Beck on Unsplash)

The other day, a friend noted on Twitter that his wife was not granted paid maternity leave by her employer, the Catholic Church. He noted that he made enough for her to take unpaid maternity. This led me to look into what the US Bishops have proposed regarding maternity leave. Now, I want to share a little of that investigation.

Current USCCB Policy

The USCCB site currently has:

Following the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), all qualified employees in the United States are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family or medical reasons, including for the serious health condition of the employee, parent, spouse or child, pregnancy or care of a newborn child, or for the adoption or foster care of a child. The bishops’ conference had long supported the principle of family leave before the FMLA became law, as reflected in their statements, Economic Justice for All and Putting Children and Families First.  (“For seven years our conference has called for a law to protect people who have to take time away from their jobs to handle serious family responsibilities. Parents should not worry about losing their jobs when they welcome a new child, nurse a sick spouse, or comfort a dying parent.”)[…]

There is no federal law requiring paid family and medical leave, but members of the administration and members of Congress have expressed interest in the issue. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Compensation Survey, only 14% of workers have access to paid family leave, compared to 88% of workers who have access to unpaid family leave. Although 82% of American workers support paid family leave, they are divided roughly equally in preferring a federal mandate for paid family leave or allowing employers to choose for themselves. Only four states – California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York – along with some cities and counties, have implemented paid family leave laws… The United States is the only Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country that does not guarantee paid family leave.

The USCCB has not taken a position on any paid family leave legislation. It is expected that there will be new proposals in this Congress, but their passage is uncertain given the divisions in Congress.

Some Ideas for a Proposal

Although there are no current proposals, this is an issue that the USCCB can speak on even without legislation. It can ask governments to enact laws that help young mothers in their children’s first weeks of life. (I say “governments” here as this could be federal or state law given the US system.) If we believe that the family, not the individual, is the basic unit of society, then we need to support families. In some ways, it might be ideal if one parent can stay home full time to care for the kids, but in reality, that is often not possible.

The Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church talks about parents’ role in 238-245.

The family has a completely original and irreplaceable role in raising children. […] The right and duty of parents to educate is “essential, since it is connected with the transmision of of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship oif parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalieanable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.” (239)

It is worth noting that in this context “educate” refers to more than schooling but the completely raising of a child that draws out good from them. Catholic teaching wants us to see the dignity of each mother and each child.

As such, I would propose that the USCCB put forward some kind of proposed minimum for paid leave. I don’t want to get into details but for example, the proposal might be something like a 12-week paid maternal leave with at least 70% of regular pay. I also leave politicians to figure out certain details. For example, who pays for it? In Canada, it is part of the employment insurance fund all pay into as a payroll tax; while in the UK, I’ve been told the employer pays; some proposals have even proposed using social security and extending your retirement age by however long you took off for the baby. I ran the math and this would be under 1% of the US federal budget. I also only note minimums for weeks and percent of pay: most countries offer women a percent of pay and 12-weeks is on the lower end of what might be needed.

This helps promote a culture of life and helps women bond so the next generation can grow up stronger and healthier. It is poorer individuals who are most likely to abort who will likely receive the most advantage from this. A large part of society’s role is raising the next generation well, and this helps achieve that.

The same proposal might also include requiring prenatal and postnatal care in any health insurance plan: and baby should probably be automatically covered by the parents’ insurance until a few months old, so parents have time to do the paperwork.

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