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(WOMENSENEWS)–The president is right. We need better family leave policies in the United States. He said so at the big White House meeting last week and it deserves repeating until we get it done.

Currently all we have in the way of guaranteed parental leave is the Family and Medical Leave Act, passed in to law during the Clinton administration and overseen by the Department of Labor.

This act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for individuals who have a new child or need to care for an immediate family member with a serious medical condition.

The Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, a bill that has been bobbing around Congress since 2000, has been introduced eight times. In 2009 it passed the U.S. House of Representatives but was stopped by the Senate.

We need this law for so many reasons. For one thing, it would guarantee four weeks of paid leave to all federal employees. And that’s a biggie.

It could also usher in legislation to overcome so many inadequacies of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Bigger still!

The 1993 law was groundbreaking because it provided job protection for those who wanted to take parental leave.

But not everyone qualifies for the Family and Medical Leave Act. It is underutilized by those who do qualify because many families cannot afford to go without one parent’s income for a 12-week period. Those who can take sick pay, vacation pay and short-term disability pay to cover the income of their leave come back to work without any more available days off from work for illness or personal time until their paid time off re-ups.

Studies find that a majority of mothers prefer to care for their own infants during the first year (or have their spouse/partner care for the child) and we can see a disconnect between what U.S. policy provides and what may actually be desired by and available to many families.

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