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Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, appeals to congressional leaders to pass paid family and medical leave

Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, speak during the Global Citizen festival in New York on Sept. 25, 2021.
Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, speak during the Global Citizen festival in New York on Sept. 25, 2021. (Stefan Jeremiah/AP)

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, sent a letter to congressional leaders Wednesday asking that they pass paid family and medical leave, arguing that comprehensive leave should be a “national right, rather than a patchwork option.”

In the letter, addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the duchess made clear that she was writing not as a politician but “as a mom.” Meghan, wife of Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, noted that women are dropping out of the workforce at an alarming rate, a situation exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and that parents in the United States often face the tough decision of “being present or being paid.”

“The sacrifice of either comes at a great cost,” she said.

The duchess, who grew up in Los Angeles, recounted the challenges her parents faced while trying to make ends meet. She started working at 13, she said, “to cover odds and ends.”

“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. “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.”

Many more American families, she said, could probably relate.

“People in our country work incredibly hard, and yet the ask is soft: for a level playing field to achieve their version of a common dream — what is fair, and equal, and right,” she said, adding that “too many Americans are forced to shortchange themselves when it comes to what matters to them.”

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The duchess’s plea comes as Democrats consider whittling down President Biden’s $3.5 trillion social spending plan, which originally included a proposal to offer workers 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. That idea is at risk of being scaled back or completely left out of the final package as party leaders try to make the bill more palatable to such moderate members as Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)

The current proposal offers those who earn $60,000 or less annually 12 weeks of guaranteed paid parental leave. Biden, however, told a group of lawmakers Tuesday that he was willing to bring down the offer to four weeks annually for people making less than $150,000 a year.

Meghan’s letter was not the only one making the rounds Wednesday in support for comprehensive paid leave. Fifteen Democratic senators from the moderate and progressive wings of the party warned Biden, Schumer and Pelosi that paid leave must remain in the final legislation. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who spearheaded that letter, told the Associated Press that she’s open to negotiating the terms of a paid leave program but that she might have a hard time voting in favor of the legislation if the program is not included in the final package. Biden can’t afford to lose any Democratic votes.

“It would be extremely hard because this is a bill, if we don’t pass it now, it won’t have a time like this again,” Gillibrand told the AP.

Meghan’s letter was shared online by the progressive group Paid Leave for All. The organization’s president, Dawn Huckelbridge, said it “means the world” to have the duchess support paid leave.

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Meghan and Harry welcomed their second child, Lilibet Diana, in June. They are also parents to 2-year-old Archie. In her letter, the duchess acknowledged how fortunate she is to be able to take time off work and be with her children in Montecito, Calif., where she and Harry moved to after backing away from their royal duties. The couple balances a portfolio of enterprises, including a multimillion-dollar Netflix deal and Archewell, a foundation named after their son.

Meghan said that while Lilibet’s arrival had the couple overjoyed, they were also overwhelmed, “like many parents.”

“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,” she said. “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.”

Before signing off, the duchess tacitly acknowledged the politically charged environment in Washington that may stand in the way of a successful deal on paid leave.

“This isn’t about Right or Left, it’s about right or wrong,” Meghan said. “This is about putting families above politics. And for a refreshing change, it’s something we all seem to agree on.”