Meghan Markle Recalls '$4.99 Salad Bar' Sizzler Dinners in Paid Parental Leave Plea to Congressional Leaders

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Archie Mountbatten-Windsor 1st birthday
Archie Mountbatten-Windsor 1st birthday

The Duke of Sussex/@SaveChildrenUK Meghan Markle and Archie

Meghan Markle is expanding her campaign to support working mothers.

Two and a half months ago, the Duchess of Sussex launched her 40x40 initiative on August 4th (her 40th birthday), encouraging people to spend 40 minutes of their day to support women going back to work in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which saw women exiting the workforce in high numbers.

On Wednesday, she spoke up for parents in an an open letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer published by Paid Leave for All.

"Over the past 20 months, the pandemic has exposed long-existing fault lines in our communities," the mother to 2-year-old Archie and 4-month-old Lili writes, setting up her argument for comprehensive, national paid leave. "At an alarming rate, millions of women dropped out of the workforce, staying home with their kids as schools and daycares were closed, and looking after loved ones full-time. The working mom or parent is facing the conflict of being present or being paid. The sacrifice of either comes at a great cost."

Chuck Schumer Nancy Pelosi
Chuck Schumer Nancy Pelosi

ERIK S LESSER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer

Noting that the American dream has over time become less about prosperity and more about achieving simple stability, she continues: "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."

For more on Meghan Markle's letter to congressional leaders and other top stories, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

From her first job at age 13 at Los Angeles's Humphrey Yogart until the time she became a successful actress, Meghan notes that "even [saving money] was a luxury—because usually it was about making ends meet and having enough to pay my rent and put gas in my car."

RELATED: Pete Buttigieg Fires Back at Tucker Carlson After Paternity Leave Criticism: 'I'm Not Going to Apologize'

Meghan notes that her backstory is like so many others' — but her current circumstance (and the freedom of financial stability) is what set her apart from an average American parent's experience. This disparity, she believes, is a problem with the way the country treats its parents. It's

"In June, my husband [Prince Harry] and I welcomed our second child. Like any parents, we were overjoyed. Like many parents, we were overwhelmed. 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 writes.

She and Harry, 37, both recently took 20 weeks of parental leave, in line with the policies of their Archewell Foundation.

"We knew we could take her home," writes Meghan, "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."

In a line Hillary Clinton singled out to sum up Meghan's "compelling" argument, the Duchess emphasizes, "No family should be faced with these decisions. No family should have to choose between earning a living and having the freedom to take care of their child (or a loved one, or themselves, as we would see with a comprehensive paid leave plan)."

The Duke And Duchess Of Sussex Visit One World Observatory Meghan Markle prince harry
The Duke And Duchess Of Sussex Visit One World Observatory Meghan Markle prince harry

Taylor Hill/WireImage Meghan Markle and Prince Harry

RELATED: Rep. Colin Allred on Being First to Take Paternity Leave in Congress: 'There's No Substitute for Time Spent'

Alluding to the paid parental and family leave policies at the heart of President Joe Biden's Build Back Better agenda, which is now facing pushback in the Senate ahead of a vote this week, Meghan affirms, "I'm writing to you on behalf of millions of American families who are using their voices to say that comprehensive paid leave should not be a place to compromise or negotiate."

"The families you represent need your strong leadership," she urges Speaker Pelosi, 81, and Leader Schumer, 70. "Paid leave should be a national right, rather than a patchwork option."

While acknowledging the "politically charged" nature of this conversation, she writes, "this isn't about Right or Left, it's about right or wrong. This is about putting families above politics."

She concludes, "So, on behalf of my family, Archie and Lili and Harry, I thank you for considering this letter, and on behalf of all families, I ask you to ensure this consequential moment is not lost."

Harry and Archie moments
Harry and Archie moments

DOMINIC LIPINSKI/AFP via Getty

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When 40x40 launched two months ago with a hilarious video co-starring Melissa McCarthy (and featuring an adorable juggling cameo by Harry!), Meghan had the support of leaders and stars including Princess Eugenie, Sarah Paulson, Ciara, Gabrielle Union, Diana Award CEO Tessy Ojo, Katie Couric, Deepak Chopra, Sofia Carson, Adele, Stella McCartney, Amanda Gorman, Amanda Nguyen, Ibram X. Kendi, Gloria Steinem, José Andrés, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, Oscar de la Renta's creative director Fernando Garcia.

Since ending their paternity leave, Harry and Meghan have returned to public life, advocating for a number of political causes. During their recent trip to New York, they met with local and international political leaders, spoke about vaccine equity at Global Citizen Live and promoted childhood literacy with a visit to a Harlem elementary school where Meghan read a copy of her book The Bench that was inspired by Harry and Archie.

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