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2020 Democratic Candidates On Paid Family Leave: An Explainer

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Finally, the 2020 Democratic debates touched on a subject that impacts parents across the country: paid parental leave. Moderators behind Wednesday's fifth Democratic presidential primary debate questioned candidates about their plans to address both the nation's lack of a paid family leave policy and the skyrocketing costs of child care. So, just where do Democratic candidates stand on paid family leave?

In the midst of discussing the House impeachment inquiry and the high cost of housing, one of Wednesday's four female debate moderators turned the discussion to child care and paid family leave. "No parent in the United States is federally guaranteed a single day of paid leave when they have a new baby. A number of you on stage tonight have plans to address this," moderator and Washington Post reporter Ashley Parker said, before asking Sens. Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar to dig into the differences between their paid family leave proposals.

While Wednesday certainly wasn't the first time a 2020 Democratic candidate has broached the subject of paid parental leave before (many have outlined their position on the subject as part of their campaigns), it was the first time the issue has been addressed during a presidential debate. However, only Harris, Klobuchar, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang were able to speak on the subject Wednesday night.

So, what about the rest of the 2020 pool? Here's where the Democratic candidates stand on the issue of paid family leave:

Former Vice President Joe Biden

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Earlier this week, former Vice President Joe Biden told The Washington Post that, while he'd advocated for the Family and Medical Leave Act that was passed in 1993, he believed more needed to be done to protect families.

"I believe the United States should guarantee 12 weeks of paid sick and family leave for workers," Biden told The Washington Post. "American workers deserve to know they can keep their families afloat if they have to take care of a sick family member."

Additionally, in 2016, Biden also supported New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's efforts to expand the state's paid family leave policy to ensure workers can take up to 12 weeks off at 35% of their normal pay.

Sen. Cory Booker

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If elected, Sen. Cory Booker has vowed to "push for passage of the FAMILY Act" in an effort to ensure that "workers are able to take paid time off when they need to care for themselves or a loved one, like a child, partner, or parent."

Known officially as The Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act, the FAMILY Act was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in February and calls for providing workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income leave for things like pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, and serious health conditions. Booker also supports expanding paid leave programs to better support "more low-income workers start with higher wage replacement rates."

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg

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In the women's agenda he released earlier this year, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg vowed to "ensure that all working Americans have access to 12 weeks of comprehensive paid family and medical leave by supporting the FAMILY Act" if elected president.

Buttigieg has also promised to ensure that benefits provided to lower-income workers are high enough that they're able to pay their bills when on leave.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

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Because she's a co-sponsor of the FAMILY Act, it seems safe to say that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard supports a paid family leave policy that guarantees at least 12 weeks. While helping to reintroduce the FAMILY Act in the House in 2017, Gabbard called on Congress to do more to protect working families.

"Our current family leave policies fall behind every other industrialized nation, and leave millions of people choosing between their family’s health and financial stability," she said in a statement. "Congress must take the next step forward by passing the FAMILY Act to better protect and empower working parents and families in Hawaii and across the country."

Earlier this year, she reiterated her support for the FAMILY Act when she joined a coalition of legislators to reintroduce the bill.

Sen. Kamala Harris

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While many of her competitors have expressed support for a 12-week paid leave policy, Sen. Kamala Harris has vowed to "guarantee up to six months of paid family and medical leave for workers nationwide" as part of her campaign.

At Wednesday's debate, she said her expanded policy was created to address the reality of the lives women lead today. "People are having children in their 30s, often in their 40s, which means that these families and parents are often raising young children and taking care of their parents," she said. "And what we are seeing in America today is the burden principally falls on women to do that work."

Harris argued that, because the United States does not have a comprehensive paid leave policy, many women are being forced to choose between their families and their career.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar

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As part of her campaign, Sen. Amy Klobuchar has called for "guaranteeing up to 12 weeks of paid family leave and allowing workers to earn paid sick leave."

When questioned at Wednesday's debate about why she supported a 12-week policy over a six-month policy, Klobuchar said she'd looked at the issue economically and had created a plan that she could also show "meticulously" how it would be paid for. While she acknowledged Wednesday that the United States was "behind the curve" when it came to paid family leave, she said candidates were obligated to be fiscally responsible. "We have an obligation as a party to be, yes, fiscally responsible, yes, think big, but make sure we have people's backs and are honest with them about what we can pay for," she said at the debate. "So, yes, my plan is three months. I think that's good."

Sen. Bernie Sanders

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If elected, Sen. Bernie Sanders has vowed to enact policies that would "guarantee all workers paid family and medical leave, paid sick leave and paid vacation."

Although his campaign website does not specify a specific length (and he's a co-sponsor of the FAMILY Act, which, if passed, would ensure up to 12 weeks), Sanders has previously told The Washington Post that he would move to guarantee six months of paid family leave. "The evidence is clear: doctors, the World Health Organization, parents around the world, and other experts recommend at least [six] months of paid leave," he told the paper.

Tom Steyer

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A relative newcomer to the 2020 race, Tom Steyer hasn't made his position on paid family leave as crystal clear as some of the other candidates have. However, he has vowed to "institute paid family leave, and make childcare more affordable and available" if elected (on top of a promise to fight for a $15 minimum wage.)

But what would Steyer's paid family leave policy look like? He previously told The Washington Post he'd "advocate for paid family leave legislation that will allow a minimum of [six] months paid family leave for all workers."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren is a co-sponsor of the FAMILY Act, meaning she supports providing workers with a guaranteed 12 weeks of paid family leave.

Additionally, in her Green Manufacturing Plan, Warren specified that any company receiving a federal contract should, at a minimum, "guarantee employees at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave" and pay a $15 minimum wage. And, according to Marie Claire, she's already moved to provide her own staffers with a paid leave policy similar to the one she supports. The magazine reported in October that Warren provides birth mothers on her staff with 12 weeks of paid leave while new parents and staffers who need to care for family members receive 8 weeks paid leave.

Andrew Yang

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Over the course of his campaign, Andrew Yang hasn't been one to mince words when it comes to speaking out against the country's current lack of paid family leave. In fact, on his campaign website he notes that "America's lack of mandated paid family leave is, quite frankly, stupid" given that "robust family leave plans have been shown to improve children's health and increase women's employment rates."

Yang says he would push for a policy that ensures employers offer parents a total of nine months of paid family leave to be distributed between themselves however they see fit, or six months paid leave to a single parent. At Wednesday's debate, Yang said he would make passing paid family leave one of the first things his administration did, if elected.

While every 2020 Democratic candidate supports instituting a paid family leave policy of some form, they differ when it comes to details like the amount of leave guaranteed and, in a few instances, who qualifies. So while paid family leave may not be an issue that significantly divides candidates, it's nice to know that next presidential election could result in the United States no longer being one of the few remaining countries in the world to not guarantee any type of paid family leave.