Today, the Education & Labor Committee of the United States Congress held a hearing entitled “Balancing Work, Health, and Family: The Case for Expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act.” The hearing dealt with the need to expand the definition of “family” under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the need to expand coverage for employees of smaller companies. It was led in large part by North Carolina Congresswoman Alma Adams and featured testimony from NC State Representative Sydney Batch.

The hearing comes on the heels of the 27th anniversary of the FMLA’s passage. The FMLA was a crucial step towards ensuring working people are supported to care for themselves and their family members in the event of serious illness or the birth or adoption of a new child. But it was only a first step. Tuesday’s hearing focused on two important improvements to the FMLA:

  • Family definition expansion. The current family definition in the FMLA is limited to oneself, parents, children and spouses. This leaves out siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, grandchildren, in-laws, step-relatives and various chosen family relationships in which people need to show up as caregivers.
  • Expanded job protections. Currently the FMLA provides unpaid, job-protected leave to employees of businesses with 50 or more people on staff. This means that the roughly 50% of working people employed by small businesses are not eligible for that unpaid leave.

Of course the FMLA also doesn’t provide for paid leave, so the majority of working people can’t afford to take advantage of it when they need it. However, improving the FMLA is a critical part of ensuring that there’s a strong policy framework in place to support any new paid family and medical leave insurance program, such as the FAMILY Act, when it moves forward in Congress. You can watch the recording of the hearing. Hearing footage begins around the 50-minute mark, and Representative Sydney Batch’s testimony begins at 1:06.