Congress’s Overdue Baby is Named ‘Paid Family Leave’

Republicans and Democrats have found every way to disagree when it comes to health policy, and this has caused us to lag behind on enacting legislation that will move our country forward. One of those policies is paid family leave following childbirth. There are not many similarities between the United States and Papua New Guinea, but surprisingly our great nation and New Guinea are two of very few nations that do not provide paid family leave after childbirth. But, we are at the perfect time for change. While the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid and job-protected leave, was passed under Clinton, President Trump has been a leader in the Republican party by being the first Republican president to endorse paid family leave for mothers and fathers after a newborn or an adopted child.

The first months of life are the most critical for a child. Poor upbringing can negatively impact a child’s entire life, and right now, only 17% of private industry workers have access to paid family leave. In our fiercely capitalistic society, almost 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and this makes taking time off to care for a newborn more challenging than ever before, which is why 25% of mothers must return to work within 10 days of giving birth. Researchers using data from the U.S. National Survey of Family Growth found that mothers who have access to paid leave are more likely to begin breastfeeding their newborn and are twice as likely to continue breastfeeding at 6 months compared to mothers who do not have access to paid family leave. Without breastfeeding or adequate time for bonding, a child’s full potential may be hindered. Unfortunately, there are no long term studies on the effects of paid family leave; however, it could be argued that the severity of future issues for a child and the likelihood of the child to utilize social welfare during adulthood is reduced if proper care during infancy is provided. This system overwhelmingly negatively affects the poor, who are often kept in cycles of substandard academic performance, but legislation on the floor of Congress could break that cycle.

Women who receive paid family leave have a higher likelihood of returning to their job, which benefits the entire system involved—the employer benefits from not having to spend additional money on training a new employee and the US economy benefits from a higher and more dedicated labor force. However, the largest challenge to the enactment of paid family leave is the possibility that some employers will choose not to hire women who are likely to have a child. This notion is substantiated by empirical data from New Jersey, which implemented statewide paid family leave in 2009. A 2016 study in New Jersey found that employment rates for women aged 22 to 34 fell about 8%. However, data is limited and states such as California have found that 90% of employers felt positively or neutral about paid leave after it was enacted statewide in 2004.

Now, with all this said, what are the plans currently being debated on the floor of Congress? As with the majority of our politics today, all the paid family leave proposals in Congress can be represented by two main plans: a fiscally conservative plan, led by senators Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney, as well as a liberal plan, led by senator and democratic candidate Kirsten Gillibrand. The two significant plans are briefly described below, and the best path of action is highly debated… where do you stand?

Gillibrand’s FAMILY Act: A working parent can receive 12 weeks of paid leave at 66% of normal wage with a maximum benefit of $4000/month. This plan would be paid for with a 0.2-0.4% payroll tax on all working American employees and employers, depending on your employment status. This is how the system is paid for by states like New Jersey that have already implemented statewide paid parental leave. One of the main concerns with this plan is that it adds a new tax. Despite a great federal deficit, our current administration and Congress voted on and passed a significant tax cut in 2017. Because of this, it is very unlikely that a plan proposing to add a new tax to working Americans will be well received by Republican congressmen.

Rubio and Romney’s New Parents Act of 2019: Working employees and employers contribute to social security, and this bill allows parents to tap into their future social security benefits to finance their leave, which can be up to 12 weeks. You are essentially paying for your own leave with money you were going to receive. In exchange for using this money earlier, a parent may work for 3-6 months past retirement age and continue contributing to their social security during this time, or they may receive small reductions in their social security benefits upon retirement. Similar to the FAMILY Act, parents will receive about 66% of their normal wage until a maximum benefit is reached. Overall, this mitigates the cost burden on employers, employees, and companies as a whole.

A significant issue is that there is bipartisan agreement that something needs to be done; however, neither side has been willing to accept the other’s way of acting, and this has blocked the enactment of any substantial federal bill regarding this issue. Right now, Democrats may need to accept that a full-benefit bill (FAMILY act) may not pass because of the added new tax stipulation that is highly unfavored among Republicans, who currently control the Senate and the Presidency. It may be important to start slowly with a more moderate bill like the New Parents Act proposed by Republicans, which is a more practical and feasible solution in our current state of no federal mandate for paid family leave.

Sources:

Burtle, A., & Bezruchka, S. (2016, June 01). Population Health and Paid Parental Leave: What the United States Can Learn from Two Decades of Research.

Jou, J., Kozhimannil, K. B., Abraham, J. M., Blewett, L. A., & McGovern, P. M. (2017, November 02). Paid Maternity Leave in the United States: Associations with Maternal and Infant Health.

May, A. (2017, May 18). Paid family leave is an elite benefit in the U.S.

Mirkovic, K. R., Perrine, C. G., & Scanlon, K. S. (2016, March 17). Paid Maternity Leave and Breastfeeding Outcomes – Mirkovic – 2016 – Birth – Wiley Online Library.

O’Dea, C. (2019, February 11). Lawmakers Move to Improve Paid Family Leave Program in New Jersey.

Vesoulis, A. (2019, May 16). Americans Could Finally Get Paid Family Leave. But Who Pays?

Warner-Richter, M. (2017, October 27). Paid parental leave is rare, but good for kids.

Congressional Research Service: Paid Family Leave in the United States

National Partnership for Women & Families: The Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act

S.463 – FAMILY Act 116th Congress (2019-2020)

S.920 – New Parents Act of 2019 116th Congress (2019-2020)

The Green Mistake

Trends of leisure activities have certainly changed in this country over the years. And, generally speaking, it’s not the government’s job to tell you what you’re allowed to do for fun. People argue all day about the line between true freedom and government rules and regulations. And the best way we can think about this is to hope that our legislators on Capitol Hill are constantly thinking about the well-being of our people and the health of our nation. This short intro truly sums up a key issue on the floor of Congress. Currently, about 20 pieces of legislation have been drafted and introduced by veteran senators and presidential candidates such as Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to legalize marijuana across this entire nation. This is a significant time in our country as 33 states have allowed for medical marijuana and 10 states have legalized recreational marijuana. The question of whether we become like Canada or stay away like Sweden has become a hot topic in the 2020 race for the presidency.

So, I want to talk about marijuana and give you the facts from scientific research that will either assure you of your beliefs or clear up some myths about the most commonly used illicit drug in America. I will only give you numbers that have come from reputable, peer-reviewed journals, which are products of years of painstaking research. I’ve had the marijuana debate with several people, and the proponents of marijuana legalization make 3 key arguments, each of which I want to address:

  1. Marijuana is not that bad for you, and it’s safer than alcohol.
  2. In states that marijuana has been legalized, marijuana usage, alcohol usage, and opioid usage have all gone down.
  3. Marijuana can be taxed and will provide great economic benefits to our country.

When comparing the effects of marijuana and alcohol on the body, it’s important to note that these drugs affect the body in different ways, and the amount of research done on alcohol far outweighs marijuana. You’ve probably already heard a lot about the negative effects of alcohol and the cognitive impairment it brings along, but what exactly does marijuana do to your body? Marijuana has been linked to some types of cancer (and cancer in offspring), chronic cough, cognitive impairments (in learning, memory, and attention), impairments in academic achievement, and development of schizophrenia. Scary, right? Well, what’s scarier is that in states that have legalized marijuana such as Washington, 8th grade and 10th grade kids perceive marijuana as less harmful and their marijuana usage has increased compared to pre-legalization. With all the country’s debate, kids don’t see marijuana as very dangerous, particularly because 10 states have legalized it.

I’ve heard numerous people say that marijuana helps them calm down, and this is supported by research, but only in the short term. Studies describing long term effects clearly state that marijuana is associated with anxiety, depression, poorer sleep quality, and organ damage. The few studies comparing the harmfulness of marijuana to alcohol have shown that marijuana is more neurotoxic while alcohol has greater negative effects on the liver. It is important to note that there is a consensus on the negative effects of alcohol on the health of the American people; however, the prevalence of alcohol usage makes banning the drug impossible. But, it’s not too late to fight marijuana. Instead of adding another addictive drug to the market, wouldn’t we want to keep it off?

And this brings the discussion to the next point made by proponents, which is that marijuana legalization leads to reductions in marijuana, alcohol, and opioid usage. Looking at the numbers, this simply is not true. Statistics from states that have legalized marijuana (even if it’s just medical marijuana) show that marijuana usage goes up after legalization. Furthermore, 22% of medical marijuana users have admitted to selling their drug to non-medical users! It’s a clear picture: greater availability leads to greater usage. Now, after marijuana was legalized in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, a few articles came out saying that alcohol sales in the state would be hurt because people will be substituting marijuana for alcohol. Lawmakers for marijuana legalization treasured these initial numbers and predictions…. until the Distilled Spirits Council came out and said that the legalization of marijuana in these states had absolutely no negative effect on alcohol sales. In actuality, the Distilled Spirits Council reported that spirit sales have increased by 4% in Oregon, 5% in Washington, and 8% in Colorado since each state’s respective legalization date. This data, in addition to studies tracking adolescents over several years, have shown that alcohol and marijuana are not substitutes, but rather they are complements in deteriorating health.

Now, for opioids. So, opioid usage has gone down since recreational marijuana was legalized in 10 states. Big win for marijuana lovers? Well, not quite. During the same time that recreational marijuana was being legalized in some states, our nation began tackling the opioid crisis.

Legislators and our president realized that tens of thousands of people were dying from opioid overdoses. To tackle the problem, strict legislation was passed, in tandem with new rules by the CDC, to limit the amount of opioids prescribed to patients by physicians. This time, less availability led to less usage. Reductions in opioid usage has been a win for our nation, but we must take caution before we attribute that positive outcome to the legalization of a different harmful substance.

Lastly, we can talk about money. America is in a debt crisis. Our nation’s debt has exceeded $22 trillion, and we don’t have a bipartisan plan to pay off our debts. Is the legalization and taxation of marijuana the solution? The states that have legalized marijuana have raised over a billion dollars in tax revenue, but the reality is that much greater costs are being incurred. Health costs of marijuana use have already been estimated to be $4.50 for every dollar raised in tax revenue, and the costs associated with federal legalization are unknown. With all of this in mind, I encourage you to take an active role in politics by choosing candidates based on their views regarding issues such as marijuana that could greatly affect the well-being of our nation.

Sources:

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2016 Jan;40(1):33-46. doi: 10.1111/acer.12942. Epub 2015 Dec 21.

Am J Psychiatry. 2019 Feb 1;176(2):98-106. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.18020202. Epub 2018 Oct 3

Ann Epidemiol. 2017 May;27(5):342-347.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2017.05.003. Epub 2017 May 10.

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2017 Jan 1;170:181-188. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2016.10.025. Epub 2016 Oct 26.

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2017 Oct;81:53-58. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2017.07.012. Epub 2017 Jul 29.

JAMA Pediatr. 2017 Feb 1;171(2):142-149. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.3624.

JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 Jun 1;75(6):585-595. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0335.

Wilkinson S. T. (2013). Medical and recreational marijuana: commentary and review of the literature. Missouri medicine110(6), 524–528.