Studies show that the vast majority of African-American mothers are the primary breadwinner in a household, Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) said. According to a report of the Black Women's Roundtable "State of Black Women in the U.S. & Key States, 2019," more than 70% of black mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners in their families.
The working poor might be back at work one or two days after the birth of a child, she said, leaving their children with a neighbor or family member. "The impact this is having on the child," she said, "on the mother and her own health and well-being, is extraordinary."
Policies like paid parental and family leave have a multi-layered benefit and are not just a financial bump for families, members said.
"If we're going to think holistically" about improving health care while lowering costs, "these pieces of legislation actually feed into that," Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said. Scripture talks about the generational effects of sin, he said, and the passage of paid leave policies "is a wonderful thing that will pay off upwards" through generations.
Studies show that children experience better behavioral outcomes when they have a parent at home right after birth, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said, showing "the long-term benefits of that initial bonding time."
The financial strain of a lack of paid leave time results not just in a lack of resources for families, Rep. Joe Cunningham (R-S.C.) said, but takes an "emotional toll" on them. The work of "relieving that anxiety and relieving those pressures," he said, "at the core of it, that's why this is so important."
Cunningham also pointed to the need for better paternity leave policies as he shared his story of the birth of his son when he, as a member of a small law firm, returned to work two days after his son's birth.
"I regret that," he said of his prompt return to work, noting that he was absent "for the bonding of my son Boone" and in "being there for my wife."
"There's no manual for having kids," he said. "It's emotionally draining," yet "just being there" for one's spouse "means the world."
"It's a shame that we are the only country in the industrialized world that does not have a full-on paid family leave program," Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) said, calling the provision in the NDAA a "huge victory" and a "win-win."