(CNSNews.com) - The Labor Department's Women’s Bureau on Wednesday awarded $1.1 million in grants to research and analyze how paid-leave programs can be developed and implemented across the country.
Since 2014, the "Paid Leave Analysis Grant Program" has awarded more than $3 million to 17 states and municipalities to support research on ways of implementing paid family and medical-leave programs.
“Too many Americans are forced to choose between the job they need and the family they love," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. "While Congress refuses to take action to make paid leave the law of the land, we have seen tremendous leadership at the state and local levels to expand access to these programs.”
Perez said the grants the new $1.1 million in grants will help "innovative" state and local officials design policies that give people "the tools to be responsible employees and good caregivers.”
The Labor Department says paid family and medical leave programs help workers with caregiving responsibilities and serious health needs remain in the workforce. "At the same time, these programs help businesses by cutting down on training costs, while keeping workers attached to the labor force and boosting earnings over time."
The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees unpaid, job-protected leave for workers to care for their newborn or newly adopted children, relatives with serious health conditions, and their own serious health conditions. However, many workers can't afford to take unpaid leave.
Paid family and medical leave has become a campaign issue on both sides:
Democrat Hillary Clinton has promised to fight for it: "Over the past several decades, women have entered the workforce and boosted our economy, yet we are the only -- the only developed country that doesn't provide paid family leave of any kind," she said at a campaign stop in June.
"We're asking families to rely on an old system of supports in a new economic reality. And no wonder so many are struggling. The bottom line is that too many leaders in business and government have lost sight of our shared responsibility to each other and to our nation."
The Trump campaign also has raised the issue. "As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce," Ivanka Trump told the Republican National Convention. "And he will focus on making quality childcare affordable and accessible for all.
"As a mother myself of three young children, I know how hard it is to work while raising a family. And I also know that I'm far more fortunate than most. American families need relief. Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties, they should be the norm."
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only three states -- California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island -- currently offer paid family and medical leave. New York will join them effective Jan. 1, 2018.
All four state programs are funded through employee-paid payroll taxes and administered through their respective disability programs. (The State of Washington passed a paid family leave law that was supposed to take effect in October 2009, but the law was never implemented and subsequent legislation has indefinitely postponed its implementation.)