WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is playing host to former President Bill Clinton to mark the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the first piece of legislation that the 42nd president signed into law after taking office in 1993.
Biden and Clinton will take part in an event Thursday at the White House to put the spotlight on legislation that guaranteed many American workers up to 12 unpaid weeks off to recover from major illness or childbirth or to take care of sick family members. Clinton signed the bill into law on Feb. 5, 1993.
Biden championed but failed to win support for paid leave for workers in 2021. On Thursday, he signed a memorandum that calls on heads of federal agencies to support access to unpaid family and medical leave for federal workers in their first year on the job. Workers aren’t entitled to unpaid leave under the law until they’ve been employed for a year.
The president is also directing the Office of Personnel Management to provide recommendations on developing policies so workers can get paid and unpaid leave to seek safety or recover from domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking. Such situations are not covered by the family leave law.
“This event is a moment to recognize the difference that the Family and Medical Leave Act has made and continues to make for millions of Americans,” said Jen Klein, the White House director of gender policy. “The president will recognize the work that remains to be done to support workers including by reaffirming this administration’s commitment to passing a national paid family and medical leave program.”
Early in 2021, Biden proposed vastly expanding the family leave law to give workers up to 12 weeks of paid parental, family and personal illness leave and to ensure workers get three days of bereavement leave per year as part of a massive $3.5 trillion social spending plan.
His plan called for providing workers up to $4,000 a month, with a minimum of two-thirds of average weekly wages replaced. The White House estimated the program would cost more than $225 billion over a decade.
Paid family leave didn’t make it into the slimmed-down climate and health care legislation that Biden signed into law in August.
A group of Democratic lawmakers have announced they were reintroducing legislation to establish paid family leave and other updates to the law.
But passing legislation to establish paid leave program will be an uphill climb for Biden with Republicans now in control of the House. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, who has been pushing for updating the federal law, said that she’s engaged Republican lawmakers on the issue.
“We are going to find what common ground exists in both the House and Senate and see if there’s some measure of paid leave that can be done with the Republican House,” she said. “I’m optimistic that there’s something we can do together. I just don’t know what it is yet.”
The current federal leave law doesn’t apply to a huge swath of the U.S. work force.
About 44% of workers are not eligible for FMLA-supported leave because they work for small employers exempt from the law, do not work enough hours or have not worked for their employer long enough to be eligible or both, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families, a group advocating for updating the law. Nearly 15 million workers used FMLA in 2022, according to the group.
It won’t be Clinton’s first trip to the Biden White House. Biden hosted Clinton, a fellow Democrat, at the White House in May for lunch.