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President Clinton's weekly radio address

February 1, 1997
Web posted at: 1:47 p.m. EST (1847 GMT)

Good morning. As a parent I know how important it is to take responsibility for our children when they need us most, when they're sick, when they need to go to the doctor or when there's a parent-teacher conference at school.

Fortunately, Hillary and I have never had to risk our jobs to be there for our daughter. We've never had to make the choice between being good parents and good workers.

Today I want to talk with you about what we have done and what more we must do as a people to give that same assurance to every American family.

Family and Medical Leave Act

One of the things I wanted most to do when I became president, was to help parents succeed, both at home and at work. That's why I was so proud to make the Family and Medical Leave Act the very first bill I signed as president, exactly four years ago this Wednesday.

Family and medical leave allows people in companies with 50 or more employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted children or to be with a family member who is seriously ill, without fear of losing their job.

Today over half of all American workers share this important benefit. People like Christie Sends, a first-grade teacher from Fairfax, Virginia, who is where with me today. Christie was among the first Americans to make use of the new family leave law in 1993 when she and her husband were expecting their first child.

She thought she would be forced to chose between the six weeks her school allowed her for new mothers, or taking a whole year off without pay.

Because of our new law, she was able to spend 12 full weeks at home, recovering from her pregnancy and spending precious time with her new daughter. Christie used the benefit again in 1995 for the birth of her second child.

Benefit for companies

Family leave is not only family-friendly, it's employer-friendly as well. Also with me today is Stan Sorrel, president and CEO of the Calvert Group, an investment firm in Bethesda, Maryland, and two of his employees who have also used family leave.

The Calvert Group started a family and medial-leave program three years before it became the law of the land. Like almost 90 percent of the businesses covered by the law, they found that family leave is easy to administer and costs them little or nothing.

So we know it's working for both families and businesses. After all, in these past four years, American business has created over 11 million new jobs, more than any other four- year term in our history.

Now we must make it even easier for parents to live up to their responsibilities to their children and to their employers.

Expanding the law

Today, I call upon Congress to expand the family leave law, to give parents an additional 24 hours of unpaid leave each year to take a child or an elderly relative to a regular doctor's appointment or to attend parent-teacher conferences at school.

In so doing, we'll make our families stronger and our workers more productive, building the kind of country and economy we all want for our children. We also must address the fact that too many workers still do not know about the family leave law.

That's why I am pleased to announce that we're launching a multi-media public education campaign to spread the word about family leave, to make sure employers and employees have the facts and to make sure everyone knows how to make this law work for them.

It's simply not enough to help people have the tools to succeed. We also have to make sure they know what those tools are.

Toll-free number

The centerpiece of this campaign is a new 800 number that any American can call to learn about family and medical leave. It's 1-800-959-FMLA. That's 1-800-959-FMLA. You can also get information through our Labor Department's Web site on the Internet -- http://www.DOL.GOV.

By expanding family leave to cover children's doctor visit and parent- teacher conferences and by helping more Americans to learn about the opportunity of family leave, we can enable millions more of our fellow citizens to meet their responsibilities, both at home and at work.

That's how we must prepare our people for a new century, full of good promise and possibility.

As parents, teachers and business people, as members of the work force and members of our communities, we all share a stake in the strength of our families.

Our society can never be stronger than the children we raise or the families in which we raise them. That's why family leave is more than just a single issue or accomplishment. It is at the heart of our approach to preparing America for the 21st century, by ensuring that we can all meet our obligations and make the most of our God-given gifts.

Thanks for listening.


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