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On 20th Anniversary of Enactment, Sen. Harkin Salutes the Family and Medical Leave Act

Harkin to Introduce Senate Resolution Marking Two Decades of Progress for Working Families

WASHINGTON, D.C.  — U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) released the following statement today on the 20th anniversary of the enactment of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a law that provides Americans with 12 weeks of job-protected leave to recover from a serious illness or care for a new child or seriously ill family member.  A recent update to the FMLA provides 26 weeks of family leave to families of servicemembers and recent veterans injured in the line of duty. Harkin, who delivered a speech on the Senate floor last night to commemorate the FMLA, will also introduce a resolution later this week to mark the two decades of progress for working families under the FMLA.

“There are many laws that we pass here in Washington that most Americans never have reason to know or care about.  The Family and Medical Leave Act, by contrast, has changed this country in profoundly important ways.  It has touched the lives of millions of working families.

“It is almost hard to imagine today, but 20 years ago—before this landmark law—workers had to risk their jobs and their livelihoods when family needs arose.  There was no national policy for maternity leave or paternity leave and no law allowing someone to take leave from work to care for an aging parent or to care for a child with a serious illness.  There was no policy to allow a seriously ill worker to return to work after recovering from cancer or other serious health condition.  All of these workers risked being fired, having no job to return to, and losing their health insurance as well. Countless hardworking Americans were forced to make wrenching choices between their or their families’ health and their economic well-being.

“The passage of the FMLA changed all that. It has been an unqualified success.  It has made a real difference in the lives of millions of hardworking Americans.  Its passage was due in large part to my friend and former colleague, Senator Chris Dodd, who led the floor fight year after year, successfully worked to override a presidential veto, and shepherded it to its final passage in 1993, after which it became the first law signed by President Bill Clinton.

“But there is still more work to do to ensure that families are fully able to see to their family responsibilities as well as maintain economic security. Despite the law, many workers are ineligible to take FMLA because they do not have enough tenure at their employer or because they work at a business with less than 50 employees. Still others are ineligible to care for their loved one—a sibling, a grandparent, an in-law, or a domestic partner. Workers also still face the loss of income during FMLA leave.

“Today is a day to honor the efforts of so many whose work led to the passage and signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act 20 years ago.  This is a time to reflect on how transformative the FMLA has been for our society.  But it is also a time to look ahead to additional ways that we can support families and allow them to stay strong, mutually supportive, and economically secure.  I look forward to future work to expand and strengthen the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act.”