On the heels of Congress securing a win for active-duty military parents by expanding their parental leave, a bipartisan pair of senators wants National Guardsmen and reservists to have comparable benefits.
Under the Reserve Component Parental Leave Parity Act, the text of which was obtained by Military.com ahead of its release, Guardsmen and reservists on drill status who are non-birthing parents, adoptive parents or foster parents would get parental leave -- not just birth mothers, as is the case right now.
"Parental leave should be available to all new parents, and service members in the reserves and the National Guard should have the same access to parental leave as those serving on active duty," Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., said in a statement. "I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan bill and help to ensure that all service members are given the opportunity to bond with their children."
Hassan is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. The bill was quietly introduced last week but has not yet been publicized or previously reported.
The bill comes after the Pentagon and military services earlier this year rolled out an expanded parental leave policy that was mandated by Congress. Under the new policy, new mothers and fathers on active duty, including adoptive and foster parents, get 12 weeks of leave, up from six weeks for new moms and three weeks for non-birthing parents.
That policy applies to Guardsmen and reservists who are on an active status. But those on a drill status still fall under the Reserve Component Maternity Leave Program.
Under the maternity leave program, Guardsmen and reservists who give birth can get excused absences with pay and retirement points for 12 training periods, or the equivalent of three weekends, within 12 months of a birth.
Hassan and Murkowski's bill would not change the amount of leave Guardsmen and reservists can take, but would expand the benefit to more than just birth parents.
The maternity leave itself is relatively new. It was implemented in summer 2022 after Congress mandated it in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA.
Maternity leave was a longtime goal of advocates for part-time service members to get their benefits on par with active-duty troops. But with the expanded parental leave for active-duty members, there's a disparity again.
"Congress' intent was to provide Guardsmen with the same benefit or at least a very, very similar benefit to what those in active duty get, and they don't have the same benefit right now," John Goheen, a spokesperson for the National Guard Association of the United States, told Military.com in a phone interview Wednesday.
While the association was not familiar with Hassan and Murkowski's bill specifically, Goheen said the lobbying group generally supports any effort to provide benefits parity for Guardsmen.
"We're also supportive of anything that helps Guard soldiers and airmen better balance the various aspects of their life," Goheen added. "It helps us recruit, it helps us retain, if soldiers and airmen are able to balance their work responsibilities, their family responsibilities and their military responsibilities.”
“If our part-timers have trouble with family or work coinciding with military, we know which one loses in the end – it's military responsibilities," he said.
The path forward on Hassan and Murkowski's bill is unclear. Asked about the prospects of the bill passing or being folded into the annual, must-pass NDAA, a spokesperson for Hassan told Military.com the senator will "continue working to build support for the legislation among her colleagues."
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.