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  • Why people of faith are speaking up about paid family leave

  • As Congress and the Trump administration debate paid family leave, faith groups are getting involved in the discussion.

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  • Charlie Camosy struggles to keep his 2-month-old son calm as he talks on phone. His responses are interrupted by short asides to the baby, who isn't happy about his dad's divided attention.
    "It's OK. You're OK," Camosy says, then continues to share how paid family leave changed his life.
    Two years ago, he and his wife adopted three children from the Philippines. Camosy, an ethics professor at Fordham University in New York, was able to take a semester of paid leave to help get them settled. This fall, he'll take another semester off to spend time with the new baby.
    "It's hard to imagine what it would have been like to help three immigrant children adjust to a new life here if my wife and I were both at work full time," he says.
    Camosy's support for paid family leave doesn't stem only from his positive personal experience. He feels called to advocate for it because of his Catholic faith, which teaches that both work and parenthood are important pursuits.
    Congress is currently considering paid leave bills from Republicans and Democrats, as lawmakers respond to growing interest in the issue from the White House and across the country. Camosy and others involved in a new report from The Center for Public Justice, a nonpartisan Christian organization, want people of faith to play a bigger role in this policy debate.
    "The conversation about federal policy is oriented around money. Where is the money going to come from? How much will this policy cost? We'd love Christians to bring the moral and ethical and humanizing part of the conversation into focus and ask what a flourishing society looks like," said Katelyn Beaty, one of the report's co-authors.
    Policy roadblocks
    The Center for Public Justice's report, titled "Time to Flourish: Protecting Families' Time for Work and Care," depicts an American workplace where working parents are overwhelmed by conflicts between job and family responsibilities, and yet few have the resources to negotiate a healthier balance.
    Around 15 percent of Americans have access to paid family leave through their employers, and others can use saved vacation or sick days or take unpaid leave through the Family Medical Leave Act, according to Time to Flourish. But financial pressures often bring people back to work before they're ready to leave their baby or have completely healed from giving birth.
    "A worker earning a median income in America would forgo more than $13,000 in wages in order to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for an infant or sick family member," the report noted.
    Out of all industrialized nations, only the United States and Papua New Guinea lack a national paid family leave policy, as the Deseret News reported earlier this year.
    America's lack of a policy does not stem from lack of interest, experts said. Majorities of Republicans and Democrats support paid family leave after the birth or adoption of a child, according to Pew Research Center.
    Three-quarters of Republicans (75 percent) and 90 percent of Democrats support paid family leave for mothers and 57 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of Democrats support it for fathers, the survey reported.
    But policymakers don't agree on who should pay for family leave and who should have access to it, said Rachel Greszler, a research fellow with The Heritage Foundation.
    Since President Donald Trump took office, there's been "more discussion of paid leave, but not a lot of agreement," she said.
    The current Democratic proposal, called the FAMILY act, seeks to provide workers with 66 percent of their monthly wages by paying out funds collected through an increase in payroll taxes. The Republican proposal, introduced this month, would allow new parents to draw on their Social Security benefits early if they agreed to delay retirement by three to six months.
    Most Americans want employers to pay for extra leave time, according to Pew's study. But many small businesses, including faith-based organizations, don't have room for this benefit in their budgets.
    Faith and finances
    Even as they work to shift the focus of the paid family leave debate away from money, Beaty and her co-author, Rachel Anderson, worry about financial pressures affecting religious organizations. These companies often don't have flexibility in their budget to fund robust worker benefits, they said.
    "I think a lot of nonprofit leaders look at something like paid family leave and think, 'There's no way we can afford that,'" Beaty said.
    The same is true for many congregation leaders, especially those that are independent and can't rely on denominational organizations for support, said Joanna Blotner, who leads paid leave activism in Washington, D.C., for Jews United for Justice.
    "A lot of congregations don't have the money to pay for a paid leave for their minister or rabbi. They would need the money for an interim minister to come in," she said.
    For these reasons, Time to Flourish includes a discussion of more affordable policies that are still family-centric. It celebrates HOPE International, a Christian company that provides small loans to families in need, for allowing employees to work remotely and banning reading or sending emails outside of work hours.
    "Having a workplace culture that honors family commitments in the evenings and weekends is a way to honor the family without paying anything upfront," Beaty said.
    The goal of the report isn't to help a specific piece of legislation to pass or get people of faith to vote a certain way, said Anderson, who directs the Center for Public Justice's Families Valued initiative. It's to encourage more conversations from a religious viewpoint about how our jobs affect our family life.
    "I'd love to hear that message more publicly: that the Christian faith believes work and family should complement each other," she said.
    Families first
    Over the last few years, a few religious institutions have launched more generous family leave policies.
    In 2016, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago announced that employees who worked at least 26 hours each week could access three months of paid leave after welcoming a new child. Last summer, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed its employment policy to offer six weeks of paid maternity leave and a week of paid parental leave available to moms and dads.
    "Paid family leave is one way the church attracts a talented and diverse workforce. The church continually looks for ways to build an appealing work environment that aligns with gospel principles including the need for mothers and fathers to fulfill their responsibilities at home," said Daniel Woodruff, a spokesperson for the LDS Church, in a statement provided to the Deseret News.
    In spite of these well-covered announcements, many people of faith still aren't sure or aren't interested in what their religion has to say about work-life balance.
    Religious Americans are actually less likely than the average American to support paid family leave, according to Pew Research Center data provided to the Deseret News.
    Compared to 82 percent of U.S. adults, 76 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 78 percent of white mainline Protestants say mothers should be able to take paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. There's a similar gap between support for paid family leave for dads among the general public (69 percent) and among white evangelical Protestants (62 percent) or white mainline Protestants (64 percent.)
    Catholics (82 percent) and black Protestants (90 percent) show strong support for paid family leave for moms, Pew reported.
    Beaty hopes the new Center for Justice report will inspire deeper engagement with the paid family leave debate in religious circles.
    "Christians of different theological convictions have a role to play in advancing the common good," said Beaty, author of "A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home and the World."
    The center plans to build on the momentum created by the report with a new newsletter on family-supportive policies and a "Families Valued" Twitter account.
    Camosy wants people of faith to lead the way toward paid family leave for all.
    "It's been huge for me," he said over his son's persistent jabbering. "It's hard to think about what it would have been like to deal with the challenges associated with adoption and now a newborn while working full time."
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