D.C. Council Moves Closer to Making Family Leave a Reality

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D.C. Council Moves Closer to Making Family Leave a Reality

Michelle D. Anderson

The D.C. Paid Family Leave campaign reports that only 17 percent of people who work for low wages nationally have access to short-term disability plans and that family leave is “more critical than ever” because more than half of mothers with infants are in the workforce.

The D.C. Council late Monday passed the first of two votes needed to make its much-discussed paid leave policy a reality for more than a half million people who work in the nation’s capitol.

The Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016, which will require a second council vote before Christmas, along with approval from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and a 30-day congressional review, will give people who work in D.C. two weeks of medical leave, six weeks of family leave, and eight weeks of parental leave, reported WAMU, an NPR affiliate.

If Bowser opts to veto the measure, two-thirds of the council could override her decision.

D.C. employers, save for the District and federal governments, would fund the benefit through a 0.62 percent payroll tax. Lawmakers originally proposed up to 16 weeks of paid leave and mandated employers pay a 1 percent tax to fund the policy, which is estimated to cost $250 million per year.

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Four states have paid leave programs, according to WAMU. The D.C. program would offer more generous parental and family leave and wage replacement than those state policies, but less medical leave than its counterparts. The council had also weighed whether to require employers to foot the bill, as other state-level leave initiatives are funded with worker contributions.

At-large D.C. Councilmembers Elissa Silverman and David Grosso first introduced the bill in October 2015 to help new parents and those caring for ill or injured loved ones.

Grosso told Rewire last year that such policies are the norm in other countries and that the United States is “just way behind the times.”

Jackie Jeter, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council for the AFL-CIO, noted in a recent organization publication that 58 percent of of D.C. families can’t afford to take unpaid leave.

The D.C. Paid Family Leave campaign reports that only 17 percent of people who work for low wages nationally have access to short-term disability plans and that family leave is “more critical than ever” because more than half of mothers with infants—59  percent—are in the workforce.

Councilmembers Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) voted against the bill. Evans, who claimed that 65 percent of workers who will benefit from the D.C. family leave policy live outside the city, said he supported the purpose of the bill, but that he was concerned about the financial effect of the program.

Critics of the paid leave program, such as D.C. Chamber of Commerce officials, have said the policy would make D.C. less attractive to businesses—a common refrain from business interests that oppose family leave policies.

The D.C. Chamber of Commerce, along with the Consortium of Universities, this year pitched an alternate, eight-week family leave plan that would have allowed businesses to decide how to fund the benefit.

The new paid leave program would likely have a minimal impact on the District’s economy, according to a impact analysis published by the council’s Office of the Budget Director.

Data released by the National Partnership for Women & Families Monday suggests family-friendly policies are important to voters around the country. The advocacy group found that candidates who mention “paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, fair pay and fairness for pregnant workers” on their websites were more likely to win an election, controlling for other factors like incumbency.