Column: Michigan mamas of color cheer national paid leave and childcare proposals

Michigan League for Public Policy photo

April ended on a high note, with a whirlwind of action in support of progressive paid leave and childcare policies. Between President Biden’s address to the joint session of Congress and movement on these issues in Congress, federal policy supports for U.S. families are having a moment — and the nation’s mamas are here for it! 

This is the culmination of years of advocacy nationwide and in Michigan, as grassroots organizations, along with moms in the Legislature, have been fighting for the support families need — not only to survive but to thrive. 

Among the highlights in Congress were the reintroduction or introduction of key legislation, including: 

  • Childcare for Working Families Act, which would make critical investments in the childcare sector and expand access to affordable, high quality childcare services for working families. 
  • Building an Economy for Families Act, which includes universal paid family and medical leave for all U.S. workers; guaranteed access to childcare; permanently extending the American Rescue Plan’s tax credits (Child Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit); and a new worker information network to support childcare, paid leave and unemployment insurance. 

But the big highlight was the presidential address to the joint session of Congress. The night made history not just for having two women seated at the dais, but also because no president has ever proposed a national, permanent comprehensive paid family and medical leave program — until now, with the announcement of the American Families Plan.

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The Biden-Harris plan would phase in 12 weeks of paid leave for parents caring for new children. It would also apply to workers who are addressing their own serious health issue, caring for a loved one, dealing with the effects of a loved one’s military deployment or service-connected injury or grieving the loss of a loved one, as well as to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault getting services and help. The White House estimates this program would cost $225 billion over 10 years — a major investment that will ultimately pay dividends for both U.S. families and the economy. 

As lawmakers and advocates, we are not only fighting for this country; we are fighting for our communities and our own families. Many of us understand personally what it’s like not to have paid leave or childcare when we needed it most. 

Too often we hear only empty acknowledgements of mothers’ invaluable roles in society but see no action around the policy changes we truly need. Many of us have spent our entire careers fending off attacks on behalf of ourselves, our families, and our communities by a system that puts profits before people. This proposal from the Biden-Harris administration is a breath of fresh air — one that says to our community that our work matters. We matter. 

What this plan did was center the pain of Black and Brown mothers, so we can come back from the pandemic stronger. Black women are the core of the nation’s economy, holding the frontline jobs and running small businesses. These mothers are more often the single heads of households. If mothers of color are elevated through policy — including everything from paid sick leave to targeted stimulus programs — the economy at-large will benefit.

Progressive moms in the Michigan Legislature and activists are celebrating, but this is also no time to pump the breaks. The moment must be seized by pushing lawmakers to move quickly in passing this legislation in order to deliver transformative change for parents and families. 

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