When Wisconsin schoolteacher Sandra Seymour's father had two heart attacks, her request for unpaid leave to care for her parents was denied.

"My supervisor told me that their policy allowed me two days of leave if my father died," Seymour says. "I would be allowed to go home to put my father in a coffin but I could not go home to kiss him goodbye, to comfort my mother, to offer support for both of them."Chicagoan Carmen Maya worked for 19 years as a hospital technician but lost her job following a pregnancy-related illness and the need to care for a child born with Down's Syndrome.

"I still cannot believe that, after 19 years as a responsible employee, one period of absence due to serious family and medical needs could cost me my job," she says.

As Seymour and Maya know all too well, millions of working Americans lose their jobs after family or medical crises, or suffer untold heartache when they must choose their jobs over their families.

That's why the 160 organizations in the Family and Medical Leave coalition, hundreds of members of Congress, business leaders and economists all support the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA.)

The FMLA would realistically address the needs of America's working women and men without spending a dime in tax dollars. Instead, the bill would require employers with 50 or more employees to provide unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks annually for workers to nurture newborn or newly adopted children, to care for seriously ill family members or to recover from their own major health problems.

During the leave, workers health insurance coverage would continue and their jobs would be guaranteed.

Congress first passed the FMLA last summer with broad bipartisan support. = Since President Bush's veto, that support has increased, bolstered by new studies that reinforce the value and cost-effectiveness of national family and medical leave safeguards.

Professors Eileen Trzcinski of Cornell University and William Alpert of the University of Connecticut, in a study for the U.S. Small Business Administration, concluded that the FMLA would benefit both employers and employees because:

- The cost of permanently replacing an employee is greater than granting leave.

- The cost of implementing leave legislation would be less than $10 per covered employee per year.

- Most employers currently do not guarantee job security and health insurance during leave.

Business leaders concerned about our economy have also come forward in favor of the FMLA. Lawrence Perlman, president of Control Data Corp., says, "The debate over what to do about declining American competitiveness should be at the top of the national agenda. But the most important assets in the needed economic revival - short-term and long-term - are American workers. The bill simply recognizes that as the composition of the American work force changes, the support it needs also changes. I believe this bill promotes American competitiveness rather than hampering it."

Prominent Republican endorsements of the FMLA demonstrate that this is a bipartisan issue.

Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean urged Congress to pass the bill, saying: "Specifically as a Republican, I see no particular conflict between a minimum federal labor standard for family and medical leave and a climate that fosters business expansion and productivity."

In the current difficult economic climate, a strong pro-family policy is more important than ever. When Congress votes on the Family and Medical Leave Act this spring, it will have the chance to ensure that what happened to Maya and Seymour won't happen again, because family and medical leave will be guaranteed by federal law.