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Opinion Columns

Sen. Winter, Rep. Gray: It’s time for Congress to catch up to Colorado on paid family leave

We desperately need transformational change that will dismantle the economic barriers that have burdened working Americans for decades.

Christine Levi carries her daughter, Aaliyah, into the toddler's home daycare early one morning in 2019 in Denver. Levi resumed work the day she came home from the hospital after having Aaliyah because her employer at the time offered no paid leave. (Marvin Anani, Special to The Colorado Sun)

On election day 2020, Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved a groundbreaking proposal to implement a paid family and medical leave program in our state – finally granting residents this essential benefit and ultimately paving the way for a nationwide shift.

Now, six months later, President Joe Biden has proposed the American Families Plan, which would not only nationalize a comprehensive paid family leave program much like Colorado’s but also make once-in-a-generation investments in pre-kindergarten and post-secondary education as well as extend substantial tax cuts for parents and workers. 

Colorado Sen. Faith Winter, Rep. Matt Gray

This is truly transformational change that will uplift American families like never before. 

Currently, four out of five U.S. workers do not have access to paid family and medical leave at their jobs — a reality that forces people to make unbearable choices every day: delaying chemotherapy in order to maintain their job, taking a parent off life support from the break room at work, or missing a child’s life-threatening operation to keep the family afloat. 

These painful stories are all too common in America, and they are what inspired us in Colorado to fight for a system that protects workers rather than abuses them. 

So now it’s time for Congress to catch up to Colorado.  

Using heaps of political courage, they must stand up to powerful special interests and meet resistance head on. It won’t be easy. It will take a whole lot of perseverance and grit. But as people who have waged and won this fight, we can tell you, it is worth it. 

Like the rest of the nation, growing political divides have affected Colorado in more ways than one. Animosity and conflict have greatly increased as inflammatory media and political figures fan the flames of discord. 

But powerful policies have the potential to unite people from all across the political and cultural spectrum – revealing common ground and shared experience. Paid family and medical leave is one of those policies. 

When paid family leave was first proposed in Colorado, it was popular right out of the gate with constituents across the state. But inside the state Capitol, a full-blown assault backed by millions of dollars targeted our effort. 

So after six years of battling with corporate lobbyists in the state legislature, we – as co-sponsors of family leave bills – collaborated with grassroots organizations, small businesses, and activists, including Good Business Colorado, 9to5 Colorado and the Colorado Fiscal Institute, to put the issue to the people. 

And we found that when voters had the chance to weigh in, they passed it in a double-digit victory. 

What we learned from this experience is that often the political noise doesn’t reflect the sentiment of the people, and that if we choose to persevere, we can actually transcend barriers and unify disparate groups around core American values. 

The American Families Plan has this same power. 

After years of mounting tension and growing chasms, our country has been stretched to a breaking point. We desperately need to come together and champion transformational change that will dismantle the economic barriers that have burdened working Americans for decades. By investing in the stability, well being, and freedom of everyday families, we will see massive shifts in our country. 

The American Families Plan not only would establish paid family leave nationally but also would make two years of community college free for all Americans; dedicate $9 billion towards addressing teacher shortages; lower health-care premiums; expand access to high-quality, affordable child care; and support middle and low-income earners with expansive tax credits. 

This package truly covers historic ground and has the potential to make huge headway for the American people. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

The way we are currently going is not only unfair, it’s unsustainable. Hardworking people are struggling to make ends meet while the ultra-wealthy shore up their power and influence. 

This has to stop. We must ease the burdens on everyday Americans and invest in our collective future.

So our message to elected officials on Capitol Hill in Washington is simple: Be tenacious in your effort to do what’s right. It won’t be easy but it will definitely be worth it. 


Faith Winter, Democrat of Westminster, represents District 24 in Adams County in the Colorado state Senate. Matt Gray, Democrat of Broomfield, represents District 33 in Broomfield and Boulder counties in the state House of Representatives.


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