I would like to introduce myself. I am Stephanie, the new policy intern at West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (WVAHC). My passion for policy and advocacy work started when I was a Social Work undergraduate at Concord University. Since then, I have continued my education by working on getting my master’s of social work degree. Before joining the team at WVAHC, I was an intern at West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition. I hope to share my passion for health policy work through this blog and other activities during my 6-month internship.

I’m excited about working to help pass pieces of the American Families Plan (AFP) that President Biden has proposed and that Congress will be debating this summer. I am passionate about the potential that the AFP has to help West Virginia working families who struggle to balance jobs and family responsibilities. Our families need support to help make ends meet and be the best parents possible.  

Over the next month, I will be writing about my favorite parts of the AFP. I hope to eventually cover almost the entire AFP. Remember that the American Families Plan is one of three proposals from President Biden. The two others are: The American Rescue Plan Act and The American Jobs Plan. The American Rescue Plan is an Act now - a new law - and is the only one that has passed so far. The AFP has a lot of diverse proposed provisions that would benefit a large majority of West Virginians. Exciting provisions in the AFP include paid family and medical leave, two years of free community college, more accessible pre-K, and child care. And much more.

This first blog will be covering the paid family and medical leave provision in the AFP. To learn more about the details in the AFP, check out this Fact Sheet published by the White House here

For parents, this bill will guarantee twelve weeks of paid parental, family, and personal illness/safe leave by year 10 of the program. Not only will the plan ensure paid maternity leave, but it also covers leave in the case of time off work needed to care for a seriously ill loved one, to deal with a loved one’s military deployment, to find safety from sexual assault, stalking, or domestic violence, to heal from a worker’s own serious illness, or to take time to deal with the death of a loved one. The AFP also will ensure workers get three days of bereavement leave per year starting in year one. The program will provide workers with a wage replacement of two-thirds of their average weekly wages (up to $4,000 a month). For the lowest wage workers, the wage replacement can be higher than two-thirds; replacement can be as high as 80 percent.

The United States is one of the few countries that does not require paid maternity leave. According to the Fact Sheet published by the White House: “The pandemic has exacerbated this problem, pushing millions of people—especially women—out of the workforce, eroding more than 30 years of progress in women’s labor force participation and resulting in a $64 billion loss in wages and economic activity per year.” 

They continued by sharing, “Nearly one in four mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth, and one in five retirees left or were forced to leave the workforce earlier than planned to care for an ill family member. Further, today nearly four of five private sector workers have no access to paid leave. 95 percent of the lowest wage workers, mostly women and workers of color, lack any access to paid family leave.” 

Numbers are a great way to visualize information. However, behind each of those numbers is a human with the lived experience of what that statistic means. I know a couple who are a part of these statistics. They are 2 out of the approximately 254,000 West Virginians that lack access to paid sick leave when they are sick, and they are 2 out of the 254,000 West Virginians who would benefit from the American Families Plan passing. I would like to share the story of these two individuals. While their story is important, it is not unique. There are thousands of other couples who would benefit from maternity leave and paid time off.

Shannon and Cory are expecting their baby at the end of June and are incredibly excited to welcome him into the world. However, they both have private-sector jobs that do not have paid time off or maternity leave currently available to them. Shannon is employed at Walmart, and her one-year anniversary of starting the career is coming up about two weeks after she is expected to give birth. However, to qualify for maternity leave, she has to have worked at the company for an entire year. At this point, she does not qualify for six weeks of paid leave. 

Cory works at a restaurant where he is a full-time line cook. The establishment requires that the employees have been employed for a year before they are offered paid time off. When he does qualify for this paid time off, Cory will get only seven days of paid leave. During an interview, Cory said, “For me to support my family, I can’t take more than a week off of work without pay.” Parents should have the option to stay home with their newborn if they want to. 

The couple looked for programs that could help them financially throughout the pregnancy since they knew that their jobs would not offer them paid parental leave. Options for them were not in abundance. They both own cars, so due to the asset limit on the SNAP application, they were denied that assistance. The couple is looking into applying for WIC and contacting their local DHHR to find more resources. Fortunately, Shannon was able to get insurance through Medicaid because she is pregnant. 

Cory commented on their lack of options saying, “I wish there were more resources available to people who did not have access to maternity leave.” The couple continued by commenting on how they couldn’t imagine what a single mother would do if she was denied maternity leave. They are fortunate they can rely on the income coming in when Cory goes back to work. But to cover their monthly expenses and take care of a newborn they need both of their incomes, not just one. 

Sometimes it is crucial to understand the stories behind a statistic. It’s easy to forget that each number represents a person who is struggling. If you want to learn more about the paid leave discussed in the American Families Plan click here to look at the fact sheet. 

Be on the lookout for the next blog in my series talking about the American Families Plan Act.