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FAMILY Act could benefit small businesses, Heitkamp says

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., along with other senators, introduced a bill that would enact a federal paid leave policy in the United States.

According to a press release, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, first introduced by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. last Congress, would make sure working families have up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take leave for serious health conditions, among other reasons. Currently, unpaid leave is offered through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Heitkamp told the Press that the FAMILY Act would "expand the reach" of the FMLA.

The business and the employee would each give about $2 per week to the fund.

While Heitkamp believes the bill would benefit working families, she said the bill will also benefit small business owners who sometimes struggle to provide paid family leave to their employees. She added an employer having to hire a new worker, even for a temporary amount of time, can be costly.

"So many small businesses could not afford to provide this benefit to their employees," Heitkamp said. "... What this would do would allow for a small employer, because you're in a bigger risk pool, ... to actually provide this benefit. So that if they had an employee that had a baby or an employee that had a long-term chronic illness in their family involving a parent or a family member, that would qualify. They could offer this benefit."

Deb Nelson, the owner of a consulting firm in Dickinson with four employees, said she felt the bill would help her and her employees.

"Let's say one of my staff had to leave for a period of ... 12 weeks," Nelson said. "... If I had to pay them that salary from my business earnings, I would not be able afford to hire somebody as well. I couldn't pay them and hire somebody, whereas if I could offer them a benefit for a percentage of what they earn, that would at least help them get through, and it makes it a whole lot easier to bring somebody else on temporarily."

Heitkamp said it could also be encouraging for those who take leave to know they have a job when they get back and will hopefully deter them from various welfare-type programs.

"When you keep people in the workforce on these programs, they're more likely to reenter the workforce," Heitkamp said. "That would save money on other kinds of social programs, whether that's food stamps or fuel assistance, whatever social program they'd have to go on if they became unemployed. That would be avoided because they're coming back to the workforce."

Linda Steve, a semi-retired certified public accountant, said the bill is not only beneficial to women who want to take time off after having a baby, but also to men who may need to take care of a loved one for an extended period of time.

"This is not a gender-specific issue, this is a person issue," Steve said. "... Everyone male, female, young, old who wind up having issues in their life. Whether that be the birth of the child or the health condition of a parent or a child or a spouse, being able to have the freedom to take the time that's necessary to deal with those personal issues makes them a much better employee."

One thing that Heitkamp said was encouraging to see for the bill is the fact that Ivanka Trump, the daughter of President Donald Trump, is also in favor of paid family leave.

"When the president talked about it in his speech there were a whole lot of people on the other side who stood up and cheered," Heitkamp said. "... Hopefully we can take some of that newfound enthusiasm and translate it into public law."