Paid Family and Medical Leave Introduced in US Senate

Only 14% of the US workforce had access to employer-provided paid family and medical leave in 2016. Now there are efforts to improve this access.

family and medical leave legislation changes

A bill that would create a national, paid family and medical leave plan has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The “Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act” introduced by Senator and presidential candidate, Kirsten Gillibrand, would allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave for a pregnancy, the birth or adoption of a child, recovery from a serious illness or injury or to care for a seriously ill family member. Workers would be paid up to 66 percent of their salary, capped at $4,000 a month.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The coverage would be portable so that workers who have multiple jobs, change jobs, or are self-employed are provided with the same security as traditional employees.
The measure would be financed through payroll contributions from workers and employers, regardless of the size of the employer. The proposed payroll tax under the bills would amount to two cents per $10 in wages or about $4 a week total, equally split between employers and employees.

A companion bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The coverage would be portable so that workers who have multiple jobs, change jobs, or are self-employed are provided with the same security as traditional employees.

There is no national policy on paid sick or paid family leave. Of course, there is the federal Family and Leave Act which guarantees workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave and job protection upon return from an illness or taking care of a family member for companies that have 50 or more employees. But, there is no federal policy on paid leave. The Gillibrand bill would change that.

While the federal government has yet to take action on a paid leave policy, many states and municipalities are moving forward with policies of their own. Seven states – California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington – as well as the District of Columbia have paid family and medical leave laws on the books, according to “A Better Balance.” And, 11 states and Washington D.C., as well as over 30 localities, require paid sick leave.

Momentum for a national family and medical leave policy

Many employers reportedly support a national policy because of compliance issues created by differing paid leave laws at the state and municipal level. Both political parties agree they want to see national legislation addressing the issue, National Public Radio has reported.

Like Gillibrand, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, the new chairman of the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, has also been proposing paid family leave for several years. Gillibrand’s bill was first introduced in 2013. Rubio’s bill, The Economic Security for New Parents Act was introduced August 2. Rubio’s proposition would have allowed new parents to pull forward a portion of their Social Security to use for paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child in exchange for having their retirement delayed by three to six months per benefit taken. It’s expected that he will introduce the bill again during this session of Congress.

President Donald F. Trump touted a nationwide paid family leave program during his State of the Union address in January “so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child” and included a line in his budget plan that would dedicate nearly $19 billion to the cause over the next 10 years — though his proposal would provide only six weeks of paid leave and only to new parents.

Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter and senior advisor, has reportedly said that she is working to build a consensus on a policy that could get enough votes to be made into law. Recently, she met several times with members of the House and Senate to promote a family leave concept.

Gillibrand’s office says her proposal has 164 original cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 34 in the Senate and has been endorsed by more than 630 organizations.

Opposition

While companies including YouTube, Vice Media and Kinkos and business groups like the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Majority and the American Sustainable Business Council reportedly supported earlier versions of the Gillibrand proposal, some conservative groups have expressed opposition.

The Cato Institute, a conservative, Washington, D.C.-based think tank published a policy analysis in October 2018 concluding that policymakers should not adopt paid parental leave policies. Instead, they should consider improving workers’ lives through reforms that increase economic efficiency, remove barriers to flexible work and increase choice, said Vanessa Brown Calder, a policy analyst with the Institute.

Just 14% of the US workforce had access to employer-provided paid family and medical leave in 2016.

According to the analysis, the private market provides paid parental leave at rates “about 30 to 50 percentage points higher” than proponents claim and industry is responsive to employee demands for such leave as it has “grown three- or fourfold over 50 years and continues to grow.”

The Institute says workers may be worse off under federal paid leave. “Evidence suggests government supported leave may result in wage or benefit reductions, female unemployment, or reduced professional opportunities for women,” Calder said.

Heritage Foundation research fellow Rachel Greszler told the Washington Examiner that workers would be better off having a more tailored policy through their employer and that “the biggest concern is the potential explosion of the program over time.”

Business case for paid leave

Just 14% of the US workforce had access to employer-provided paid family and medical leave in 2016. And, it’s been widely reported that the United States is the only developed nation that does not offer paid family leave. But, some say there are strategic reasons for businesses to adopt paid family leave policies that outweigh the cost. A 2017 study from the Boston Consulting Group, based on data from 250 companies, found that the advantages of a paid family leave policy—greater ability to attract and retain talent; improved employee morale and productivity; and better alignment with company values—outweighed the cost of putting such a policy in place.

Prospects for passage

While it’s widely expected that Gillibrand’s bill will pass the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and flounder in the Senate, it’s also been widely speculated that Rubio’s bill will not obtain enough support to pass through the U.S. House of Representatives. So, the time could be ripe for a bipartisan bill on paid family and medical leave to be introduced in Congress.

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