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October 17, 2006

Valuing Families:  State Legislative Models Brought to you by Progressive States and MomsRising

What would a policy that really values families look like? 

Parents need real programs, not just rhetoric, that help them take care of their children or sick family members and supports the decent wages and health care all families need. 

Here's the good news: progressive leaders across this country have been enacting policies to help American families and, while no state has pulled all the elements together, there is a pretty good blueprint for a policy program that values families out there.   Teaming up with MomsRising, the Progressive States Network has pulled these policies together in a set of on-line resources, including legislation, articles, research reports and other resources, to help legislators and advocates bring these policies to your states.   

You can find these State Legislative Models at:


We invite you to explore these online resources, but here is a quick tour based on MomsRising.org M*O*T*H*E*R typology of issues: 

M- Maternity/Paternity Leave  *   O- Open Flexible Work  *  T- afTer-School Programs

           (Paid Family Leave)
H- Health Care for All Kids      *   E- Excellent Child Care  *  R- Realistic & Fair Wages

M- Maternity/Paternity Leave (Family Leave)

While the 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was a significant advance for working families, since it gave a large number of employees the right to take up 12 weeks off to care for a new child or take care of a sick family member. Unfortunately, the law has some severe limitations, applying only to workplaces of 50 or more employees and providing only for unpaid leave, meaning many families can not afford the lost income in taking advantage of the program. 

States have responded with a number of innovative programs to address these gaps, including  

  • Paid Leave: The California Paid Family Leave Law gives employees up to six weeks of paid leave to stay home with a new child or care for a sick family members.  There are even more expansive bills being proposed in MassachusettsNew Jersey, New York, and Washington State.
  • At-Home Infant Care: For low-income mothers, Minnesota's AHIC Statute has been a model for providing income support for staying home with their children after birth. 
  • Extending Unpaid Leave to Smaller Employers: A number of states have extended unpaid family leave protection to workers in smaller employers. Vermont's law is an especially good model, extending leave to employers with 10 employees or more for medical leave and 15 employees or more for parental leave.
  • Unpaid Leave Policies for Public Employees:  Wisconsin regulations extend up to six months of unpaid leave for government employees.
  • Intermittent Leave:  Wisconsin has also allowed private sector employees to take unpaid leave as "intermittent leave" or partial absences, an option that is especially useful for families deal with chronic illnesses in their families.

O- Open Flexible Work 

While family leave helps families deal with large events like birth, adoption and major illness, employees also need more day-to-day flexibility from their workplaces to deal with the everyday needs of their families.   States have adopted a number of innovative flexible work programs, including:

  • Time off for Educational Activities: Twelve states require employers to allow time for employees to participate in their childrens' educational activities, with California and Vermont having excellent models for these kinds of programs.
  • Guaranteed Days Off:  As discussed last Thursday, San Francisco voters look poised to enact a ballot proposal to guarantee up to nine sick days per year for full-time workers at large businesses, with fewer days off for employees in small businesses or in part-time jobs.  Other states are promoting similar policies.
  • Restricting Mandatory Overtime: Like a number of states, Illinois law limits overtime for nurses, a model that could be extended to other job categories to ease the overtime burden on many families.

T- afTer-School Programs

With the parents of 28 million school-age children working outside the home, only 6.5 million K-12 children (11%) participate in afterschool programs.  But states are increasingly making it a priority to expand afterschool programs to enrich student academic achievement, prevent crime, and ease the burden on working parents.  Additionally, the No Child Left Behind Act increasingly requires states to provide afterschool programs to help underperforming students.

  • The State Pages by the Afterschool Alliance detail afterschool programs in each state.
  • The National Governors Association's Support Student Success details best practices in designing afterschool programs.
  • California's Proposition 49 was approved in 2002 with the goal of providing afterschool programs for all children. See this summary by the Afterschool Alliance.
  • In 2001, both houses of the Illinois General Assembly unanimously passed resolutions to create the Initiative, a task force to study the state's afterschool programs. See this summary of the results by the Afterschool Alliance.

H- Health Care for All Kids

Millions of Americans, including children, lost health insurance coverage in recent years-- with the percentage covered by employer-provided coverage dropping from 63.6% in 2000 down to 59.8% by 2004. That was 11 million less than if coverage rates had stayed the same. 

In response, states are promoting a variety of models to expand coverage to make sure children and their families have health care, including expanding Medicaid & SCHIP programs, enacting comprehensive plans to cover all kids, reinforcing employer-provided health care coverage, and promoting universal health plans for everyone. Some outstanding models include:

  • Covering Kids: The new Illinois AllKids law provides an affordable health care plan for all children in the state on a sliding fee scale based on family income.  
  • Employer "Fair Share" Requirements: Laws in Maryland and New York City and proposed bills in Chicago and New York State are designed to reinforce the employer contribution to health care coverage in our system.
  • Universal Coverage Proposals:  San Francisco enacted the first law in the nation creating universal health coverage in a jurisdiction; the California legislature passed a Single-Payer bill (which was vetoed) to extend coverage to everyone in that state and leaders in Wisconsin have proposed an innovative Employer-Based Universal Coverage bill.

E- Excellent Child Care

For parents who work, peace of mind is knowing their children are in quality child care and early education programs.  For single mothers particularly, 79% of whom are in the workforce, decent programs for kids during work hours are a lifeline.   And not only do such programs support working families, but they are critical investments in the workforce of tomorrow.  Since child care and early education systems vary so widely across different states, the models in this section promote policy guidelines, rather than particular legislative language, including:

  • Tax Credits: State Dependent Care Tax Credits help subsidize child care for parents through the tax code.
  • Quality Child Care: The Smart Child Care Act model legislation, based on an innovative program in North Carolina, promote public-private child care partnerships to expand the availability of quality day care centers. 
  • Expanding PreSchool: The Oklahoma Preschool Program has helped that state achieve the highest rate of 4-year olds in preschool of any state in the country, while the Illinois Preschool for All law is a good model for states trying to move forward on expanding preschool.

R- Realistic & Fair Wages

The reality for working Americans is that wages have been largely stagnant for over three decades.  The federal minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, has steadily declined in the last forty years.  Yet states are promoting policies to make sure work pays a living wage, including:

Explore the Resources:  These are just the highlights of the online resources MomsRising and Progressive States have worked together to bring you.  Go online and explore.  And remember, we are here to help legislators and advocates looking for help in bringing these policies to your state.

Posted by Nathan at October 17, 2006 08:26 AM