Paid family leave passes in D.C. and is proposed again in Congress

States and cities have been at the forefront of providing paid family leave to workers. In December 2016, Washington, D.C. became the latest city to pass paid family leave. Recently, a paid family leave measure was reintroduced in the federal House and Senate.

Washington, D.C. The city has passed a law that will impose a new tax on D.C. employers and establish rules allowing workers to take paid family leave. The law, Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016 (UPLAA), was passed in December 2016 and guarantees certain periods of paid family and medical leave to private sector employees starting on July 1, 2020. Payments will be funded by an additional 0.62 percent employer payroll tax that the city will collect from private-sector employees starting on July 1, 2019.

While the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act allows eligible employees to take 16 weeks of unpaid leave (while the federal FMLA only provides for 12 weeks), paid leave under the UPLAA will be provided for shorter periods. For instance, paid leave will be provided for eight weeks to new parents, six weeks for the care of a family member with a serious health condition, and two weeks for an employee’s own medical leave. Cumulatively, no more than eight weeks of paid leave total in a 52-week period will be available under the UPLAA.

FAMILY Act. On February 7, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) reintroduced the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, along with 112 cosponsors in the House and 26 in the Senate (H.R. 947; S. 337). In the last congressional session, the proposal never made it beyond committee assignment. The bill would create a national paid family and medical leave insurance program aimed at ensuring that American workers would no longer have to choose between a paycheck and caring for a family member.

The bill’s sponsors say that the FAMILY Act would give workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave for pregnancy, the birth or adoption of a child, to recover from a serious illness, or to care for a seriously ill family member. The measure would be paid for through small employer and employee contributions. The average worker would pay $1.50 per week, and the benefits would be completely portable and not tied to any one employer.

Proponents assert that the legislation benefits businesses, too. They point to research from states where paid leave laws have passed showing that the policy has had positive effects on recruitment, retention, productivity, and overall performance.

Specifically, according to its sponsor’s fact sheet, the FAMILY Act would:

• provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take time for their own serious health conditions, including pregnancy and childbirth recovery; the serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner; the birth or adoption of a child; and/or for particular military caregiving and leave purposes.
• enable workers to earn 66 percent of their monthly wages, up to a capped amount—ensuring that low- and middle-wage workers have a higher share of their wages replaced.
• cover workers in all companies, no matter their size. Younger, part-time, lower-wage, contingent, and self-employed workers would be eligible for benefits.
• be funded responsibly by small employee and employer payroll contributions of two-tenths of 1 percent each (two cents per $10 in wages), or less than $1.50 per week for a typical worker.
• be administered through a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave. Payroll contributions would cover both insurance benefits and administrative costs.

Only 14 percent of the workforce has paid family leave through their employers, the fact sheet notes. Less than 40 percent of the workforce has personal medical leave through an employer-provided short-term disability program.

“We need the FAMILY Act to help deal with the biggest economic challenge of our time—that too many American workers are not earning enough to make ends meet,” DeLauro said in a statement. “Losing several weeks’ worth of wages in order to care for an ill loved one would push many families over the financial edge, and some past the point of no return. The time for paid family and medical leave is long overdue—and we will keep fighting until no American worker has to choose between sacrificing a paycheck and caring for their family during the toughest times.”


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