The Time Is Now for the Delaware Family Leave Act

The following op-ed appeared on DelawareOnline on April 25.

By Rep. Debra Heffernan

Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with information about the importance of early childhood development. We as a state have invested millions of dollars into ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed in life by helping them during those early formative years. The state hosted a Birth to 8 Summit recently, focusing on how critical the first 3,000 days of life are.

In addition, politicians and others routinely tout the importance of the family unit, that a healthy family pays immense dividends both for the child and for the parents. 

It is past time for us to simply pay lip service to the importance of a healthy family and to actually do something about it, and with that in mind, now is the time for Delaware to “Lead on Leave.” Right now, our state is in a prime position to become one of only a handful of states that offer its public employees paid maternity and paternity leave when they become parents.

That is why I’m sponsoring House Bill 165 to make full-time state employees eligible for 12 weeks of maternity or paternity leave after one year of employment. New parents would be eligible for leave for up to one year after the birth of the child.

This isn’t some radical idea hatched in a liberal think-tank. Every developed nation in the world already offers some form of paid family leave for new parents. Mexico offers 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. France gives new mothers 16 weeks of paid leave. The United Kingdom offers 20 weeks of paid maternity leave. Countries like Pakistan, South Africa and Venezuela have at least 12 weeks of paid maternity leave.

But here in America, where 70 percent of mothers work – and more than 40 percent are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families – only 13 percent of workers can receive paid family leave through their employer. The majority of mothers (54 percent) don’t have access to paid sick days to care for their sick children.

If you feel the slightest bit of a twinge at this point, you should. This should be embarrassing to all of us, because we all want America to lead the world in our quality of life and be the best place to raise a family. Paid family leave should be a universal goal for all Delawareans. The benefits far outweigh any arguments to the contrary.

I’m the proud mother of three children, all now in their teens and 20s. When my husband and I had our first child, I took time off to bond with our new daughter and recover before returning to work. But when I had our second child, we had to make a purely financial decision. My employer did not offer paid leave for new mothers, so I was forced to return to work much sooner than I normally would have because, with two children, we couldn’t afford to lose my paycheck.

No parent should have to make a financial decision to leave their child just a couple weeks after they have been brought into the family. It’s hypocritical for us as a state to stress the importance of the family unit and then not back it up with this kind of basic support for the family.

Major Delaware employers such as Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, DuPont, AstraZeneca, Barclays and Merck already offer paid family leave to their workers. The State of Delaware should join these companies who have made the wise decision to put families first.

I’m pleased that the Delaware State Education Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 81 have backed my legislation, and we continue to gain support from lawmakers every day. It is only a matter of time before we pass this bill into law and Delaware can truly lead on leave.

Debra Heffernan represents the 6th District in the Delaware House of Representatives.