Meghan, the mom of two has entered the chat. The Duchess of Sussex—best known to us commoners as Meghan Markle—took yet another departure from royal protocol this week, penning an open letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), published Wednesday by the advocacy group Paid Leave for All.
Though the letter further breaks with the long-held expectation that members of the British monarchy remain politically neutral, as Meghan opens the missive: “I’m not an elected official, and I’m not a politician. I am, like many, an engaged citizen and a parent.” Acknowledging the rare privilege of time and resources she and Prince Harry had at their disposal when welcoming second child Lilibet this summer, she writes (in part):
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. 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.
No family should be faced with these decisions. 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).
In taking care of your child, you take care of your community, and you take care of your country—because when paid leave is a right, we’re creating a foundation that helps address mental health outcomes, health care costs, and economic strength at the starting line. Instead, as it stands now, we spend a fortune as a country paying into symptoms rather than causes. I understand that with everything going on these days, people might find it easy to be apathetic about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. And then equally, when it feels like your voice doesn’t matter, you tend to use it less often, but with stakes this high none of us can afford to let apathy win.
Meghan’s plea comes at a pivotal time, as on Tuesday, President Biden, along with Pelosi and Schumer, announced a significant cut to the proposed scope and funding of a national family paid leave program in the budget reconciliation bill. Specifically, “Biden informed liberal Democrats at a White House meeting Wednesday that the emerging legislation will only provide four weeks of paid leave benefits instead of the 12 weeks initially discussed by lawmakers,” reports The Hill, which also noted the program “is also expected to be means tested to be limited to lower-income families.”
On Wednesday, 15 Senate Democrats led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and including Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) pushed back with a letter of their own, pressing for reconsideration of the program’s funding and scope.
“We urge you to include a national paid leave program that is meaningful, comprehensive and permanent in the Build Back Better Act,” wrote the senators (h/t The Hill). “It must be universal to cover all workers, provide progressive wage replacement to help the lowest wage earners, and cover all existing types of leave with parity.”
Meghan’s letter urged the same, reflecting on not only her own significantly less privileged upbringing in California but the past 20 months of the global pandemic, which “has exposed long-existing fault lines in our communities.”
“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., adding: “The working mom or parent is facing the conflict of being present or being paid. The sacrifice of either comes at a great cost.”
As The Root has previously reported, the majority of those aforementioned women leaving the workforce were Black and Latina. Those departures are particularly precarious when juxtaposed with the fact that those women are also increasingly heads of household. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (pdf): “More than four in five Black mothers (81.1 percent) are breadwinners, with a majority of Black mothers (60.9 percent) raising families on their own. There are three times as many single Black mother breadwinners as married Black mother breadwinners.”
“I’m writing to you on behalf of millions of American families who are using their voices to say that comprehensive paid leave should not be a place to compromise or negotiate,” urged Meghan, pointing out the comprehensive and “robust” family leave plans long in place in many other countries. “The United States, in stark contrast, does not federally guarantee any person a single day of paid leave,” she continued. “I’m sure you agree that if we are to continue to be exceptional, then we can’t be the exception.”
The open letter from Meghan, Duchess of Sussex is available to read in full on Paid Leave for All.