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'Nobody should have to make those choices' | North Carolina group pushes for paid family leave

Most people in the Carolinas don’t have access to paid family leave, forcing many to make some tough decisions.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — How much time did your job let you take off when you had a child? Or had to care for a sick parent? Did you get paid? 

Many people in the Carolinas don’t have access to paid family leave, forcing many to make some tough decisions. But there’s a push to change that on both a local and national level.

Part of President Biden's infrastructure bill includes 12 weeks paid family leave, and there’s a local push to make that happen with billboards up on highways across the Carolinas.

Lawanda Moorer remembers having to go back to work just a few weeks after having her first son 20 years ago. She said the decision was all about money as she was unable to stay home without income.

"Making that decision based on finances is something no one should have to decide between," she said.

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That’s because her job in the retail industry back then didn’t offer paid family leave. Now, 20 years later, she's working as a high school guidance counselor and cares for her elderly grandmother. She still doesn't have access to paid family leave. 

"The job security is there but the financial support is definitely lacking," she said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 23% of private industry workers nationwide have access to paid family leave. Moorer can't believe in 20 years there haven't been any advances. The U.S. is one of only eight United Nations member countries that doesn't guarantee any paid family leave, according to the WORLD Policy Analysis Center. 

The United States instead has the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993. FMLA means employees can take time off and not lose their job but that time off is unpaid. 

Tina Sherman is with Moms Rising, the group that paid to put up the billboards across the Carolinas and across the country promoting paid family leave.

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"Many can’t afford to take it because it's unpaid so having access to a paid leave policy is critical for families," Sherman said.

The group is pushing to help enact the Build Back Better Act, also known as the infrastructure bill, which includes 12 weeks of paid family leave for all full-time American workers.

"Nobody should have to make those choices," Sherman said.

The Build Back Better Act applies not only to new moms, but to anyone dealing with a medical emergency. Experts say this is one key to getting women back into the workforce after so many were forced to take time off during the pandemic.

Contact Michelle at mboudin@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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