WASHINGTON — Life as a member of Congress can be all-consuming. But a Texas congressman has just returned to work after taking a month-long break from his political life to stay home with his family, following the birth of his second child.
“Paternity leave isn’t talked about as much and it’s also not taken as much by men in the workplace. And it’s really important,” Rep. Colin Allred (D-Dallas) said.
Allred is believed to be the first, and only, male Congress member to take paternity leave. Two years ago, he took two weeks off when his first son was born.
And then he took off most of the month of April when his second son was born, visiting Washington only for the President's address to Congress.
The Labor Department says about 21 percent of American workers have access to paid parental leave. Adrienne Schweer, who heads the Paid Family Leave Task Force of the Bipartisan Policy Center, says it's not clear how many men actually take such leaves.
“Only 7 percent of worksites, of employer sites, are offering men paid paternity leave,” Schweer said.
As for members of Congress, Schweer says it’s rare for men or women to take parental leave.
“He set a really important example, not just for his colleagues and the members of Congress that will come behind him, but his staff,” she said.
In taking a paid leave, Allred is enjoying a benefit not available to many of his constituents.
“This is not about politics or any kind of ‘electioning.’ This is about me trying to set an example of what should be done,” Allred said.
Allred is pushing for a national paid family leave program, so other new parents can stay home with their newborns. In his speech last week, President Biden proposed spending $225 billion to fund a paid medical and family leave program.
“But so much of our leave policy, so much of the way that it’s still structured looks like a previous era. We have to change that and that’s what I’m working on doing,” Allred said.
Allred says to its credit, the Trump administration held a summit two years ago to discuss creating a national paid leave program. He attended that gathering.
“I hope there can be some bipartisan buy-in on this because we’re really the only country of our status that doesn’t offer paid family leave,” he said.
Until last year, each House and Senate office had its own family leave policy. A new law then mandated that everyone in the federal workforce, including congressional staffers, be allowed 12-weeks of paid parental leave. However, it is up to individual lawmakers to decide whether to take paid leaves themselves.