Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, penned a letter to Congress that urges lawmakers to pass legislation that would create a national paid leave program for new parents.
The duchess, who is married to Prince Harry of the United Kingdom, released the letter Wednesday on paidleaveforall.org. It’s addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the leading Democrats in their respective chambers.
In her letter, Meghan advocates for paid leave by describing how the coronavirus pandemic has shined a light a problem that has existed for a long time in the U.S.
“At an alarming rate, millions of women dropped out of the workforce, staying home with their kids as schools and daycares were closed, and looking after loved ones full-time,” she wrote. “The working mom or parent is facing the conflict of being present or being paid. The sacrifice of either comes at a great cost.
She also used her own upbringing as an example of how many American families struggle to make ends meet, especially those with children.
“I grew up on the $4.99 salad bar at Sizzler—it may have cost less back then (to be honest, I can’t remember)—but what I do remember was the feeling: I knew how hard my parents worked to afford this because even at five bucks, eating out was something special, and I felt lucky,” she wrote. “And as a Girl Scout, when my troop would go to dinner for a big celebration, it was back to that same salad bar or The Old Spaghetti Factory—because that’s what those families could afford to do too.
The duchess also described working small jobs from the age of 13 to help cover odds and ends.
“I worked all my life and saved when and where I could—but even that was a luxury—because usually it was about making ends meet and having enough to pay my rent and put gas in my car,” she said.
Meghan argued that families shouldn’t be faced with “impossible choices” about childcare, work, and medical care.
“No family should have to choose between earning a living and having the freedom to take care of their child (or a loved one, or themselves, as we would see with a comprehensive paid leave plan),” she wrote.
The royal pointed out that the U.S. has fallen behind most of the other developed countries regarding this issue. In a list of 41 countries, Pew Research found in 2019 that the U.S. is the only nation that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents.
“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 Meghan. “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.”
Though the letter was addressed to Democratic leaders, who largely support paid family leave, the duchess called for lawmakers in both major parties to work together to take action to help working families.
Meghan’s letter comes as Democrats have been forced to whittle down President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion social spending plan, which originally included a proposal to offer workers 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. It’s unclear if the measure will be scaled back or completely removed from the final bill that’s making its way through Congress.