NEW YORK - Democrats pushed on Tuesday for a nationwide paid family leave system in the United States, the only developed nation that does not guarantee pay to workers taking time off to care for children or other relatives.
The proposal would establish a national insurance program to provide workers with up to 12 weeks paid leave per year for the birth of a child, adoption or to care for a seriously ill family member.
The lack of paid family leave takes a particular toll on women who tend to care for children and aging relatives, and the proposed Family Act would bring national policy in line with other countries, supporters say.
The United States is one of only five nations that have no guaranteed paid maternity leave, the other four being Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Eswatini, formerly Swaziland, according to the World Policy Analysis Center, a research group at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Family leave legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress in previous years but been unsuccessful.
Now, with Democrats controlling the lower House of Representatives and a record 127 women in the House and Senate, it could have a fighting chance, said Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a sponsor of the bill.
"Now we have a majority. We have a real shot at getting this passed, and I am so optimistic we can get this done," said Gillibrand in a statement.
Gillibrand recently announced her intention to seek the Democratic Party's nomination for president. Guaranteed paid leave exists in a handful of states but not on the national level.
President Donald Trump has voiced support for six weeks of paid leave but his proposal does not cover care for sick family members.
Opponents say paid leave could be too costly for small businesses to shoulder. Supporters of the Family Act say it could be funded through paycheck deductions at an average weekly cost of $1.50 to workers.
"It's shameful that America has lagged behind for so long on paid maternity leave," Toni Van Pelt, head of the National Organization for Women, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The Center for American Progress, a Washington-based policy institute, estimates more than $20 billion in U.S. wages are lost each year due to workers lacking access to paid family and medical leave.
One in every four U.S. mothers returns to work 10 days after giving birth, according to Paid Leave for the United States, a group promoting family leave.