We can all agree: Family comes first. It is the foundation of our society, and it is our job as public servants to put forth policies that help families not just survive but thrive. That’s why I decided to take a step forward to further align the city of St. Petersburg’s practices with our values and philosophies by expanding our city’s policy of paid family leave from six weeks to up to eight weeks for new and growing families – for both new moms and dads.
Many large cities and counties across Florida have already begun to offer a paid family leave policy for their workers, from Miami to Tampa to Jacksonville and beyond. While I’m happy to see our city and other cities throughout our state also moving forward and making progress, this is a policy that warrants attention at the state level.
We have an opportunity, on a statewide level, to offer paid family leave to all Floridians, not just a select few. Right now, there are bills in the Florida Legislature, SB 1194 and HB 889, the Florida Family Act, that would offer paid family leave to new families in Florida across the board. Only 13 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world without a formal policy that guarantees new parents family leave.
Paid leave to care for a new child is a policy that’s good for families, good for businesses and good for Florida. It is an affordable solution that is there for families when they need it -- and helps small businesses and companies by reducing costly employee turnover, by alleviating the cost of wage replacement through affordable insurance and by improving productivity. Inclusive paid family leave can help close the gender wage gap by helping women to stay in the workforce and rise to leadership roles.
Studies have shown that paid family leave reduces infant mortality. Yet according to a report by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, one in four women are forced to return to work within 10 days of having given birth, putting the health of newborn infants and postpartum women at risk.
It doesn’t have to be this way. With paid leave laws like the Florida Family Act, working parents will have the peace of mind and economic security they need in order to start a family, to care for a child, and to make ends meet.
It’s important to note that paid family leave policies are not partisan. In fact, the federal government recently approved 12 weeks of paid parental leave, and the president highlighted it during his State of the Union address.
It’s time we catch up to the modern world, make Florida a leader on this issue and in our nation and start offering a real policy of paid family leave.
Rick Kriseman is the mayor of St. Petersburg.