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Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, wrote a letter to Congress calling for paid family leave

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex pictured onstage during Global Citizen Live, New York on September 25, 2021 in New York. The mother-of-two advocated for paid family leave in a letter to top congressional Democrats.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex pictured onstage during Global Citizen Live, New York on September 25, 2021 in New York. The mother-of-two advocated for paid family leave in a letter to top congressional Democrats.

Democrats have been negotiating for weeks over just how much to spend on a budget reconciliation bill that would address key Biden administration priorities in areas like climate change, health care and child care.

And now another high-profile voice has entered the conversation. Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, penned an open letter to top Democrats on Wednesday asking them not to "compromise or negotiate" when it comes paid family leave.

"Paid leave should be a national right, rather than a patchwork option limited to those whose employers have policies in place, or those who live in one of the few states where a leave program exists," wrote the mother of two. "If we're going to create a new era of family first policies, let's make sure that includes a strong paid leave program for every American that's guaranteed, accessible, and encouraged without stigma or penalty."

Her letter comes as progressive House and Senate Democrats are pushing back against a preliminary decision — by President Biden and their moderate counterparts — to slash funding for a national paid family leave program in a scaled-back version of the bill.

As The Hill reported, Biden informed them at a White House meeting on Wednesday that the Build Back Better Act will provide four weeks of paid leave benefits instead of the original 12.

More than a dozen lawmakers sent a letter of their own to Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in response, urging them to include a comprehensive national paid leave program in the final bill.

"There is no lasting recovery — no real rebuilding — without care. Paid leave is a necessary and long overdue investment that would contribute to adding more than $1.6 trillion to our economy through increased women's workforce participation," they wrote. "An investment in paid leave will pay dividends for our families, our businesses, and our economy, while creating a more equitable recovery for all."

They note that only 23% of working Americans have access to paid leave through their employer, and just 7% of low-wage workers have access to even a single day of paid family leave.

Lawmakers added that there is considerable bipartisan support for such a program, with 84% of voters — including 74% of Republicans — in favor of a national paid family leave policy.

Meghan's letter touched on similar themes, characterizing the paid leave decision not as right or left but "right or wrong."

She explained that she was writing as an engaged citizen and parent, and reflected on her own experiences, including growing up on the $5 Sizzler salad bar and getting her first job at age 13.

But the actress-turned-duchess, who is married to Britain's Prince Harry, also acknowledged how her position has since changed.

"In June, my husband and I welcomed our second child. Like any parents, we were overjoyed. Like many parents, we were overwhelmed. Like fewer parents, we weren't confronted with the harsh reality of either spending those first few critical months with our baby or going back to work," she wrote. "We knew we could take her home, and in that vital (and sacred) stage, devote any and everything to our kids and to our family. We knew that by doing so we wouldn't have to make impossible choices about childcare, work, and medical care that so many have to make every single day."

These choices are by no means new, she acknowledged, but have become increasingly difficult during the pandemic as millions of women have had to drop out of the workforce to care for loved ones full-time.

A strong national paid leave policy would help create a foundation to address mental health, health care costs and economic strength "at the starting line," she argued. In fact, many countries recognized this through policies of their own — she pointed to Estonia, which offers over a year and a half of leave to be shared by new parents.

"The United States, in stark contrast, does not federally guarantee any person a single day of paid leave," she wrote. "I'm sure you agree that if we are to continue to be exceptional, then we can't be the exception."

She concluded by urging lawmakers to act and thanking them for their consideration on behalf of her family, "Archie and Lili and Harry."


This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: October 20, 2021 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly called Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer the House majority leader. It also said that Meghan Markle's open letter was to House Democrats. It was to congressional Democrats.