As North Carolina teachers head back to school this year, they are walking through their classroom doors with a new benefit — paid parental leave. This benefit, for which almost all state employees are eligible, was provided by the NC General Assembly’s Republican majority as part of  SB20, the Care for Women, Children and Families Act.

While this bill is an excellent first step in providing paid parental leave to North Carolina families, the time is now for conservatives to lead on this issue — both at state and federal levels — and ensure that all families will be able to care for their children in the weeks after birth or foster/adoption placement. This will build a foundation for the strong, healthy families that all North Carolinians deserve.   

Why do we need a solid, conservative paid-leave policy? According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 23% of workers and 9% of those with low wages have access to parental leave. Close to one-quarter of American women are forced back to work within 10-14 days after giving birth. This takes a significant physical and mental toll on both mother and baby. Studies repeatedly prove that mothers who have paid leave have better postpartum mental and physical health, and their babies have better outcomes.   

Paid parental leave keeps mothers off public assistance and connected to the workforce.  48% of individuals with incomes under $30,000 go on public assistance after the birth of a baby. Mothers with paid leave, however, are 39% less likely to go on public assistance and 40% less likely to need food stamps. It is a win-win situation when mothers who work outside the home have the chance to bond with their child, as they are more likely to remain  in the workforce and contribute to our economy.   

Paid leave is also crucial to help women who are facing unexpected pregnancies, as most women who have abortions cite the inability to afford a child as a determining factor in their decision. The ability to bond with a child and recover from childbirth reduces an important barrier they face and opens doors to economic stability and opportunity. Providing assistance to parents is a key way to protect vulnerable children — both born and unborn.   

There are multiple legislative options available at both the state and federal levels that make paid leave more accessible for families while staying true to our conservative principles of limited government, free markets, and individual liberty. Whether it’s innovative ideas such as tax credits for employers, an option to delay Social Security benefits, or allowing parents to accrue overtime for paid time off, conservative lawmakers have drafted plans that are optional, fiscally responsible, and place no mandates on business. 

North Carolina is leading with the recent state legislation, but I encourage our congressional delegation, along with US Sens. Thom Tillis and Ted Budd, to join the national conversation on paid leave and support the solid, conservative options that have been proposed on Capitol Hill.   

Finally, paid leave is a winning issue.  In a survey conducted last year by Public Opinion Strategies, North Carolinians overwhelmingly supported providing paid leave up to four weeks after birth, including women (81%), independents (77%), Republicans (74%), and Trump voters (72%).   

Conservatives can — and should — create paid leave policy that not only protects families and encourages human flourishing but also stays true to our principles of limited government, free markets, and individual liberty. This holistic, pro-family vision that values life and embraces children and parenthood is one that we can all stand behind — and it’s one that’ll have a lasting impact for generations to come.