Amidst negotiations and votes in D.C., Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sat down with Parents.com's political contributor Emily Tisch Sussman for the Moms Run the World series to talk about how her policies for paid leave, universal pre-K, and child care made it into President Biden's Build Back Better agenda.

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US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Credit: Getty Images

It's been several years since Senator Kirsten Gillibrand first proposed her "Family Bill of Rights" and now her plans are on the cusp of becoming a reality.

Emily Tisch Sussman, host of our Moms Run the World series on Instagram, sat down with Senator Gillibrand in between key Senate votes to talk more about how her policies in the Build Back Better agenda will benefit families.

The Current State of Play

Currently, the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better reconciliation bill is being negotiated by both the House and Senate—at the same time as the $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Under the Build Back Better bill, families would have access to universal pre-K and child care, 12 weeks of paid leave, two years of free community college, extended child tax credit, and Medicare expansion.

"I'm hopeful that over the next few weeks we can hopefully reach some consensus that the Build Back Better plan is going to have this [paid leave] in it, and I can get all 50 colleagues to say, 'Yes we are with you we are going to vote yes,'" said Senator Gillibrand. "And I'm optimistic that we will get that done. It may take longer than we like, but I believe we will get there."

Understanding the Need Firsthand

In 2019, when Gillibrand was running for president, she put paid family leave at the center of her campaign. During one of the first Democratic debates, she said her first action as president would be to pass a policy that included paid leave, universal pre-K, and affordable day care.

"I very much thought families should be on the presidential stage; I thought it should be debated. That's why I created a Family Bill of Rights, and every aspect of my Family Bill of Rights was ultimately put into President Biden's family's agenda," Gillibrand noted during our conversation.

She is no stranger to the experiences of millions of families. With two kids, who are 13 and 18, she knows firsthand the difficulties families can face when balancing work and care. Like many kids, her own son struggled to cope with online learning, moving the camera away from his face to "deal with the stress of being on camera."

Unfortunately, she noted the difference in experience between herself and her colleagues, many of whom are older men: "I think there's a disconnect between them and reality. And so when I'm fighting for something as important as affordable daycare or national paid leave, or universal pre-K, I don't know that it really sinks into all of them because they don't have the same shared experience."

Nevertheless, she has heard wide support among her colleagues for the initiatives in the Build Back Better agenda and is willing to fight to ensure that support persists.

"They very much are part of the solution," she said. "If I do get an inkling that some of our colleagues are balking at that, I will be laser-focused on those individuals and make sure that they understand what it's like for working parents across this country."

Extending Beyond Maternity Leave

When people think about paid family leave, their mind often goes directly to maternity leave. But under Gillibrand's proposed plan, paid leave is about more than that; it also includes sick leave, time off to care for aging relatives, and paternity leave.

"Paid leave is for everybody, for all life events," Senator Gillibrand said. "And it's great to tell those stories so that people can understand it better."

Just recently, Vice President Harris also explained that paid leave extends beyond child care and will also benefit those in the sandwich generation (those who are simultaneously taking care of the children and their parents).

Her Call for Action

Senator Gillibrand has long advocated for families and continues to fight for paid leave and all aspects of the care economy. But she also called on anyone who may benefit from these policies or know someone who may benefit to join in on the fight.

"It's really important that people, families, parents, women, elevate their voice in every way they can," she said. "Calling into members of Congress's offices is great, calling into radio shows is great. Any form of communication: creating a really funny meme and posting on Instagram, whatever you can come up with that articulates your view that paid leave, affordable daycare, universal pre-K are essential and important to you, that helps."

Emily Tisch Sussman is the host of the all-women's podcast, Your Political Playlist, and Senior Advisor to Paid Leave U.S.