September 23, 2021

Duckworth, Casten Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Educational Support Professionals Access Benefits Through FMLA


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Sean Casten (D-IL-06) reintroduced the bipartisan ESP Family Leave Act, which would update the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to help more educational support professionals (ESP) at schools—teacher’s assistants, custodians and maintenance staff, among others—access its benefits without the risk of losing their job.

“No one should have to choose between their job and caring for a sick child or family member—including our nation’s educational support professionals,” said Duckworth. “With students, teachers and ESPs heading back to school in Illinois and across the nation, I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Congressman Casten so we can work to close the loopholes that prevent many educational support staff from accessing basic, hard-earned benefits through the FMLA.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made even clearer what we already knew: Workers need access to family and medical leave to keep themselves, their families, and our communities safe,” said Casten. “It is unconscionable that many of the dedicated Americans who care for and teach our children have to choose between their health – not to mention our children’s – and their livelihoods when faced with an illness. The ESP Family Leave Act is a small but critical step toward giving school employees the support they deserve.”

“The Education Support Professionals Family Leave Act is so important to educators whose jobs are not always full time,” said Jill Scarcelli, Chair and ESP Council to the Illinois Education Association. “It will give ESPs who face a life altering event the ability to take care of a sick family member, recover from getting hurt, or care for a newborn and not worry whether or not we have a job to return to. Because the truth is, education support professionals provide as much stability and support to students as teachers do, and ensuring we return to support our students and building after a leave means this Act is a win for students as much as it is for anyone—our schools depend on our ESPs. This legislation is more important than ever. Our communities need to make sure that employees feel supported in the workplace and that an illness or caring for a loved one will not undermine their livelihoods.”

The ESP Family Leave Act would build on a provision enacted in 2009 to help more airline flight crews receive FMLA benefits. Because some ESPs work only during the school year or fewer than eight hours a day, many struggle to clear FMLA’s 1,250 hours of service threshold. The legislation would update the FMLA so that all ESPs who work more than 60 percent of the total monthly hours expected for their specific role are able to access benefits. One out of every three public school employees is an ESP and there are over 2.7 million ESPs across the country working in public schools and colleges. 

Along with Duckworth, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Chris Coons (D-DE) cosponsored this legislation in the Senate.

Along with Casten, U.S. Representatives Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA-08), Madeleine Dean (D-PA-04), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Michael F.Q. San Nicolas (D-GU), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL-04), (D-IL-04), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT-05) cosponsored this legislation in the House.

This legislation is endorsed by the National Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) and the American Federation of Teachers.

Expanding paid family is a major priority for Senator Duckworth. Earlier this year, Duckworth helped introduce the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act which would create a permanent, national paid family and medical leave program to provide 12 weeks of paid leave for workers who need time to care for a newborn or adopted child, a seriously ill family member or their own serious health condition.