Progressive Jews to Schumer: Paid leave must be part of Build Back Better legislation


(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — In a full-page ad in Thursday’s New York Times, progressive Jewish groups were among the 750 New York politicians, leaders and community organizations urging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to ensure that paid family and medical leave remains part of the Build Back Better Act, a centerpiece of President Biden’s domestic agenda. 

“We thank you for your leadership to fight for working families in New York and across the country; the passage of paid leave this year would cement that legacy,” they wrote in a signed letter. “Simply put, on your watch, paid leave must not be left on the cutting room floor. We believe that every working person in New York and beyond deserves time to care for themselves and their loved ones regardless of where they live or work.” 

The Jewish organizations that signed include Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and the National Council of Jewish Women New York. The individual Jewish signees include Jewish educator Peter Geffen and Rabbi Rachel Timoner of Congregation Beth Elohim, the Reform synagogue in Park Slope where Schumer is a member.  

Many other Jewish names dot the long list: Jewish actor and singer Mandy Patinkin and Jewish actress Alysia Reiner (“Orange Is the New Black”); New York City Comptroller-elect Brad Lander, and former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, who also served as president and CEO of the American Jewish World Service.

The open letter was spearheaded by A Better Balance, a non-profit that advocates for workplace rights — among them, paid family and medical leave, paid sick leave, and fair and equal pay for caregivers — “through policy work, strategic litigation and direct legal services, and public education,” per their website. 

On Friday, Nov. 19, the House of Representatives advanced the wide-ranging Build Back Better agenda — which includes an expansion of health care coverage, clean energy measures and more — by passing a $2 trillion package that includes $200 billion for four weeks of paid family and medical leave. The package faces an uphill battle in the Senate, however, due, in large part, to expected pushback from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

New York led the nation in passing a paid family leave policy on a state level in 2016, which Gov. Kathy Hochul recently strengthened by signing legislation in November that allows leave for caring for siblings. Only eight other states currently have paid family leave policies. 

The Hill reported that Schumer could bring the Build Back Better Act to the Senate floor as soon as Dec. 13. “No one should have to choose between being able to put food on the table or caring for their loved ones,” said Bobbie Sackman, a member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. “But right now, so many families do … Care is infrastructure. It doesn’t matter how sturdy a bridge is; you can’t cross it if you can’t leave the house.”