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Clinton: Extend Unpaid Family Leave

Presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks at the 7th annual Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy committee luncheon, Monday, Oct. 15, 2007, in New York.
AP Photo/Diane Bondareff
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday proposed extending unpaid family leave to an additional 13 million workers and spending $1 billion a year on paid leave programs.

"Too many Americans today feel trapped between being there for their kids and being there for their employer, and our government policies have just not kept up with the realities of American life," said Clinton, who proposed expanding the Family Medical Leave Act to include companies that employ at least 25 workers instead of the current 50.

That would make millions more workers eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or ill family member. Clinton also said she would encourage states to develop paid leave programs by offering $1 billion a year in grants.

"We have to get real about what's happening with families today," the New York senator said in a speech at the Manchester YWCA. "We want to make it easier for people to both work and fulfill their most important responsibilities."

Clinton described her own experience as a working mother, recalling that her law firm colleagues didn't know quite what to make of the firm's first pregnant lawyer.

"I just kept getting more and more pregnant, and the lawyers kept walking down the hall looking the other way," she said.

Clinton said she relished the time she took off after her daughter Chelsea was born, and that even though she was lucky to have help when she returned to work, she can empathize with the struggles many parents face.

"I've been fortunate to have so much support as a working mother, but I understand what it means to be pulled in a million directions at once," she said, describing a hectic morning when both Chelsea and her baby sitter were sick and Clinton was due in court.

"It was just that gut-wrenching feeling," she said. "I was lucky enough to have a friend who came over and watched Chelsea while I ran to court and ran back home. But I know that happens every day, and there are so many pressures on young parents."

Beyond family leave, Clinton proposed requiring all workers to be given seven sick days a year that could be used to care for themselves or their children. Clinton's plan also would require employers to at least consider requests for flexible work schedules.

She also would increase funding for child care subsidies and allow them to be given to parents who stay at home with their children rather than only to those who send their children to daycare.

"Why should we pay for other people to care for your children but not give you the support to stay home and do it yourself?" she said.

A Republican National Committee spokesman said Clinton's proposals are reckless.

"Hillary Clinton's agenda for working families is pretty clear: higher taxes to pay for outrageous spending proposals totaling more than $750 billion," Danny Diaz said. "Senator Clinton's plans to grow government and weaken our national defense will not resonate with American families at any rung in the economic ladder."