Healthcare advocates joined members of the Working Families Party and the New York State Family Medical Leave Coalition April 22 in front of Senator Kemp Hannon's Garden City district office publicly pleading with the Senate Health Committee chair to bring a bill that would provide families in New York State with paid family medical leave to the Senate floor for a vote.
Families that say they've struggled to cope with medical emergencies without paid time off, along with the Paid Family Leave Stork, also attended the press conference.
In 2007, the Assembly passed a bill (A9245) to provide 12 weeks of paid leave for one to take care of a newborn or sick relative, offering $170 per week through New York's Temporary Disability Insurance.
Advocates hoped the April 22 press conference would pressure Senator Hannon to "finally" take action on what they are calling a "critical piece of legislation."
Senator Hannon told Anton Newspapers that his priorities are to contain costs, pare taxes and create jobs and that this bill raises taxes directly by its specific provisions.
"It is the wrong message to businesses that have an option to locate or expand in New York State. It is the wrong message to those who have received pink slips in recent months. It is the wrong message for working women and men who need to pay an extra $10-15 for a tank of gas," Senator Hannon said, adding that the April 22 press conference was nothing more than a "political stunt without substance."
Kalyani Thampi, the statewide campaign coordinator for Paid Family Leave, said, "He can't keep pushing this under the carpet ... It's about time working families got some benefits, benefits that they deserve, benefits that 177 other counties have."
Thampi added, "The U.S. and New York State cannot stall ... This is an incredibly important bill and we want our voices to be heard. This is the first day of many days of fighting that we will do in order to make paid family leave pass ... Senator Hannon, are you a family man? If you were a family man you would support this bill, you would bring it to a vote."
As the owner of two Tutor Time Childcare Learning Centers on Long Island, Kathy Liguori said a paid family leave program would help her and her husband keep the valuable employees they need to provide stability to the young children in their care by reducing turnover, even when they have children or experience family tragedies.
Matthew Sturiale, director of the Long Island Services for the YAI/National Institute for People with Disabilities, added, "While the 1993 federal Family Medical Leave Act certainly paved the way to provide families with 12 weeks of unpaid leave, staying home for a limited period of time to care for either a newborn child, a disabled child or adult child or an ill family member is really a luxury for most New Yorkers. It shouldn't be. It should be a benefit that all New Yorkers should have."
YAI/National Institute for People with Disabilities operates more than 450 programs throughout New York, including 30 different programs throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties, including some in Senator Hannon's district, Sturiale noted. "The Assembly has done their part. They passed a bill last year and it looks as though it will be passed again this year. It's time for Senator Hannon and the rest of the New York State Senate to do the same thing..." he said.
In New York this year alone, 130,000 working women will give birth, according to Thampi. "Do we want 130,000 women to have to struggle and choose between taking care of their children and taking care of their job? I don't think so."
Further, she noted, two-thirds of Americans will have to care for an elderly relative in the next 10 years. "This proves that our workforce is changing, that there is a generational shift and that the demographics in the workplace are changing..." Thampi said.
Wantagh resident Pat Kenny, a working mom with two sons with Down's syndrome (aged 30 and 33), a daughter that came back home after an injury and an 85-year-old mother, said her current situation is much different than it was 40 years ago when she helped care for her sick father.
At that time Kenny and her family were able to care for him with hospice in the morning. After work, she would then care for him and often help her mother on weekends.
"I love what I do but I also need my salary. At this time, if something should happen to my mother, it would be a very different situation than I had 40 years ago and I would have to take a leave from my job. It really would be wonderful if it could be a paid leave..." Kenny said.
Currently, the United States is one of just four countries (including Liberia, Papua, New Guinea and Swaziland) not providing paid family leave. Further, California and Washington State currently have paid family leave programs. And just last month, a bill to provide family leave passed the New Jersey legislature. Advocates say Governor John Corzine has promised to sign it.