Elizabeth Gedmark is a staff attorney and Director of the Southern Office for A Better Balance. Elizabeth discussed the Employment Action Areas of the Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding during the August 18 virtual town hall meeting. Below is a transcript of her responses:
What accomplishments from the five years since the SGCTA are you most excited about? Did these efforts target or affect disproportionately impacted populations, i.e., those with the greatest disparities in breastfeeding rates? If so, how? What is missing from the SGCTA that you see as an important priority for the next five years?
Thank you Cheryl [Lebedevitch] and USBC for including A Better Balance. This [topic] is so critically important. By way of introduction, A Better Balance is a national legal advocacy organization, and we are pushing for stronger laws and policies for working families. That of course includes better breastfeeding protections for working moms.
I’m actually going to touch mostly on Action 13 [Paid Leave], as well as some actions that we see are missing. And, all of that ties into exciting recent accomplishments as well. We hear from folks all over the country about these problems and about how they do face struggles and problems with breastfeeding when they return to work. There are statistics about that, that often supply drops or people will feel forced to stop breastfeeding when they return to work, unfortunately. And we do also know that these issues disproportionately affect low-wage workers and women of color and other marginalized populations, as you all [other panelists] have pointed out.
So, one aspect that I am excited about, to turn to the positive news, is the fact that two new states in the last five years now have paid family leave policies. New York, just this year passed their paid family leave law, and that will go into effect in 2018. And, Rhode Island passed their paid family leave law in 2014. So, that’s two new states, that’s doubling the amount of states that have it. Folks are sometimes surprised to find out that the US is one of only a handful of countries in the whole world that does not provide paid maternity leave. These policies, importantly, are gender-neutral. They’re paid family leave, and they’re not just for a biological mom. They’re also for adoptive parents and parents that are not the biological parents. It’s so important to make sure that we do have a comprehensive approach to family leave.
Similarly, there are statistics about the disproportionate effect that the lack of paid family leave can have. We know that paid family leave leads to more breastfeeding that has been the statistics of Canada and California. A lot of other information that we have that we know when you are able to have paid leave and stay home and establish breastfeeding. You can work on pumping and do all the things that you need so that you can be successful and reach your goals.
I’ll quickly mention a couple other exciting things. One is the Affordable Care Act, in the last five years. I’ll talk a little about some problematic areas, but on the whole, I think a lot more employers know that they have to provide space for pumping, and [the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law] was a really important law that happened with the Affordable Care Act.
Also, I will mention something called the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act, and the fact that 13 states and five localities just in recent years have passed Pregnant Worker Fairness Act laws. The reason why this is important is because what happens prenatally often affects breastfeeding. What we have seen are pregnant women pushed out of a job when they are not afforded modest accommodations to keep them working for longer, and they end up using their saved time, either unpaid or paid, when they could have saved that time for after they give birth and could be establishing breastfeeding. There could also be health complications that can come from not accommodating pregnant workers that could also have an implication on breastfeeding, or needed breastfeeding accommodations in the workplace.
Do you have anything else you would like to share about implementation strategies that you think would have the greatest impact, or other parting thoughts for us?
With implementation strategies, we were glad to see that [the SGCTA] recommended state paid family leave programs, and that’s exactly what New York and Rhode Island did. But, there’s also the possibility for a federal paid family leave program, so I wanted to plug that. Similarly, there is a federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and there is proposed legislation that would close loopholes, so the Affordable Care Act does not just apply to some workers, hourly workers, it would apply to all workers.