Leading on Leave

D.C. Council Introduces Most Generous Paid Family Leave Bill In United States

D.C. Council Introduces Most Generous Paid Family Leave Bill In United States

Long the victims of taxation without representation at the federal level, residents of the District of Columbia have something to brag about when it comes to local policymaking. Today, legislation was introduced in the D.C. Council that could establish the most generous government-provided family leave plan in the country. The bill would give almost every full-time employee in the District access to 16 weeks of paid family leave and offer 100 percent of pay for those making up to $52,000 a year. This new worker benefit would allow workers time off to care for an infant or adopted child, recover from a serious illness, address exigencies arising from a military deployment, or provide longer-term care to a serious ill family member.

Establishing strong paid family and medical leave policies is a crucial step in ensuring that workers do not have to choose between their families and their livelihood. The United States is one of only three countries in the world that does not offer paid family leave. Currently only 12 percent of all private-sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer and fewer than 40 percent have access to temporary disability insurance through their employer.

Moreover, low-wage workers are much less likely than their higher-income peers to have access to paid leave. In fact, highly paid workers are more than five times as likely to be offered paid family leave by their employers as low-wage workers. As a result, many workers are forced to choose between their paycheck, or in some cases even the security of their jobs, and caring for a family member.

Paid leave is not only good for workers, it’s good for business too. Research shows that paid family leave keeps people in the labor force and can even expand labor force participation. In fact, in the United States, the rate of women in the labor force has failed to keep up with our developed peers thanks in part to a lack of paid leave policies. Many businesses know this is true, and the absence of legislative action, companies like Johnson & Johnson and Google have taken action to provide paid family leave to their employees.

Currently, only three states—California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey—offer any paid family leave. But momentum behind work family policies is growing. D.C. is the first municipality to introduce paid leave legislation, but other states like Michigan and Vermont are taking up the issue. Additionally, the Department of Labor recently announced more than $1.5 million in grants to states and municipalities to study how to create effective paid leave programs.

BOTTOM LINE: D.C.’s paid family leave bill would go a long way in providing economic security to families in the city and it can serve as a model for other states and municipalities to develop their own paid leave programs. But we need Congress to act to pass federal paid family and medical leave legislation to ensure that no one is forced to choose between their families and their livelihood.

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