By Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

A Eugene businesswoman is lending her experience as a mom and business owner to the push for paid family and medical leave for employees nationwide.

Sabrina Parsons, the CEO of Palo Alto Software, traveled to Washington, D.C., recently to speak during the reintroduction of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act.

“My company is one of the few small businesses with the resources to provide comprehensive paid family and medical leave, and it has strengthened our bottom line,” she said. “When my business was smaller with only 20 employees, as much as we wanted to, we couldn’t afford to offer the paid leave we have today.”

“About 70 percent of small businesses, mom and pop businesses, support the FAMILY Act. They want to offer paid medical and parental leave to their employees but they don’t have the tools or the funding for it,” said Parsons, referring to a recent poll by Small Business Majority.

The U.S is one of eight countries of the 193 countries in the United Nations that does not offer paid parental leave, according to Business Insider.

However, there are at least six U.S. states — California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Washington — along with Washington, D.C., and several major cities that have laws requiring paid family and medical leave, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Most states and cities use a plan similar to the one proposed in the FAMILY Act to fund their paid leave programs.

The FAMILY Act would create a national paid maternity, paternity and medical leave program. The program would provide employees up to 66 percent of their wages for 12 weeks while they took time off to take care of an illness, an ill relative, during the deployment of loved one in the military or to care for a newborn or adopted child, according to the act.

The program would be funded through a two-tenths of 1 percent payroll tax, about 2 cents for every $10 of pay, and the cost would be split between employees and businesses. All businesses and employees would be expected to pay into the fund.

The act, if it passes, would be a boon to businesses and employees, Parsons said. Employees wouldn’t have to make a decision between taking a cut in pay or leaving their job and taking care of family.

Parsons has been a passionate proponent of the working mom and dad ever since the first of her three sons was born more than 14 years ago. At the time, she and her husband owned their own software company and she could work her hours around her family’s child care needs. But not every employee or business owner has that luxury, she said.

Parsons said paid family and medical leave has had bipartisan support for many years, but the sticking point always has been how to scale a paid leave law to the nation’s smallest businesses. Small businesses often don’t have a large enough human resource department or the income necessary to manage and pay for something like a paid family or medical leave program.

The FAMILY Act addresses these sticky issues by creating a federal program, managed by the Social Security Administration.

The FAMILY Act is not new. It was first proposed in 2013 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and was reintroduced to Congress in 2017, but has failed to move forward. This year she reintroduced it with the help of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY.

“We need the FAMILY Act to help deal with the biggest economic challenge of our time — that too many Americans are working in jobs that do not pay them enough to live on,” DeLauro stated in a press release. “Losing several weeks’ worth of wages in order to care for an ill loved one or the birth of a child — events which many of us would need to take time off for - is simply not an option. In fact, it would push many families over the financial edge.”

At least two of Oregon’s congressional legislators also support the bill.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said, “As ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, I am committed to working on policies that address paid family leave and make it easier for everyone to balance work and family.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., is one of the act’s co-sponsors and has supported similar legislation in the past.

“I believe it is unacceptable for families to have to choose between a paycheck and caring for their newborn or tending to a sick loved one,” he said in an emailed statement.