D.C. is one step closer to offering 8 weeks of paid family leave

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In an 11-2 vote on Tuesday, lawmakers in Washington D.C., approved a generous paid family leave that could give more than half a million employees up to eight weeks off on their employers’ dime.

The bill, which will go through a final vote on Dec. 20 before arriving on D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s desk, would have non-federal employers pay out $242 million in benefits annually beginning in 2020.

D.C.’s paid family leave proposal offers eight weeks of paid parental leave for any parent expecting a child. The measure also includes two weeks of paid leave for a qualifying individual who becomes unable to perform his or her job functions because of a serious health condition and six weeks of paid leave for an individual who is caring for a family member with a serious health condition.

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The funding comes from a small payroll deduction that employers will pay based on their workers’ wages and that will placed into an insurance pool, says Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonprofit organization in D.C. that advocates for policies that help to create more fairness in the workplace and help workers meet the demands of work and family.

Employees can receive up to 90% of their salary, with the benefit capped at $1,000 per week, if the bill passes.

The Office of the Budget Director analyzed the economic benefits a paid leave program would bring to D.C. and found it “would have a minimal impact on the district’s labor market and economy over a 10-year period,” according to its Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016 statement.

While private-sector employment is projected to grow by 87,000 jobs between now and 2027 — from 534,000 to 621,000 jobs — the additional cost of providing paid family leave will cost 90 to 1,300 jobs, according to the statement.

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans expressed concerns with the bill at the council meeting on Tuesday, noting various expenses the district will face in 2017.

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While he supports paid family leave, he said, he can’t vote in favor of a bill that disproportionately affects Virginia and Maryland residents over D.C. residents. The paid benefit would give about $2 to residents of the generally affluent D.C. suburbs for every $1 given to D.C. residents.

The district also will feel obligated to pay $200 million to $400 million of uninsured liabilities if the incoming Trump administration repeals the Affordable Care Act, Evans said.

The Democrat also expressed concern with approaching employers about raising taxes again —employers have seen a 0.62% tax increase over the past two years — for the ACA and the Metro. Evans is a committee member on the board that oversees the Metro and estimates it will take $600 million to fix the Metro and another $492 million in capital.

However, “firms that currently offer paid family leave benefits could offset $33.2 million of the new payroll tax, in the aggregate, by shifting existing benefits onto the new public program,” according to the analysis.

Overall, the benefit would increase women’s labor force participation and decrease infant mortality rates, according to the analysis.

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When seven councilmembers proposed the bill in October 2015, it included up to 16 weeks for family and medical leave.

If the bill is passed into law, it will need final approval from Congress, where it might find resistance in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

The policy is more generous than similar state policies in New Jersey, California and Rhode Island.

Earlier this year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that gives eligible employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave when caring for an infant or a family member with a serious health condition, or to relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service.

The program will launch on Jan. 1, 2018.

“Ultimately, we need a national policy that covers everyone, no matter where they live or who they work for,” Shabo says. “State policies will help to make a real meaningful difference.”

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