DC’s proposed Family Leave Act, if adopted, would be the nation’s most ambitious paid leave program for workers. The Washington Post recently published a kneejerk opposition to it that’s based on several flawed understandings of the bill, and it’s important to set the record straight.
DC’s Family Leave Act would help make sure little ones like these don’t become regular fixtures at the office. Photo by Jen Kim on Flickr.
Last week, the Washington Post editorial board said the bill, drafted by Councilmembers Elissa Silverman and David Grosso, would go unnecessarily further than similar bills around the country, that jobs would leave DC because of it, and that it wouldn’t help those who need it most.
In brief, the proposed paid leave program would replace all or part of a worker’s salary for up to 16 weeks for leave associated with certain qualifying circumstances. The most obvious qualifying circumstance would be maternity or paternity leave, but leave to care for a sick or elderly family member would also be covered. The program would provide up to $1,000 per week to match a worker’s salary up to $52,000 a year. Salary above that level would be matched at 50% up to a $3,000 per week cap.
The bill proposes to pay for the program from a fund generated by a .5%-1% payroll tax on employers for all their employees (not just District residents). It would operate much like unemployment insurance: When you go on leave you would apply for benefits, which would be paid from the fund. Your employer would not be obligated to pay you.
There are a lot of questions that still need answers regarding how the program will work and what changes the proposed bill might need. How would it interact with existing paid leave programs offered by private employers? How would “double dipping” be prevented? Would the fund be solvent?
There should certainly be a productive conversation between policy makers, the public, and business owners to refine the bill into its final form. All of these questions are more must be addressed before the final bill is adopted and— in some ways more importantly— before the regulations go into effect. Unfortunately, the Post editorial detracts from the potential for future discourse.
The DC Council is not out of control, nor is it crazy for proposing this
The opening premise of the Post editorial is that the DC Council is deep into a bender of naively progressive legislation that is overwhelming the District’s business community. But there isn’t all that much evidence to back this stance up:
Witness the burst of legislation in the past three years requiring employers to pay higher salaries, provide new benefits and face new regulations . Now, with the ink barely dry on those laws, a majority of the council wants to put an additional burden on employers with a tax that would allow workers to take up to 16 weeks of paid family leave annually.
If you click on those examples, the first is a link to an article on the District’s newly-higher minimum wage (a change the Post editorial board itself admitted was necessary, even if it disagreed with the timing and degree).
The second link is to an article about the Paid Family Leave bill itself, and the third is to a proposal to require personal trainers to register and meet certain certification requirements. Notably it was a proposed regulation, not a law, and one that was gutted before adoption.
The above is all the editorial could come up with to demonstrate how out of control the Council is.
The Post actually doesn’t have its facts straight
The end of the excerpt really shows how flawed the board’s position is. The proposed bill will not allow workers to take up to 16 weeks of family leave per year. They already have that right. Since 1991, under the DC Family Medical Leave Act DC workers have been entitled to take the 16 weeks. The only change that the new bill would make is that people without the economic security of, say, a law firm associate, will actually be able to afford to take the leave they already have the right to take.
Which leads to another baffling argument that the editorial makes:
this broad-brushed approach doesn’t target resources to the workers who are most in need. Low-income and minority groups have the least access to paid leave options, so it would be far more sensible for the city to design a program that helped them most. That would be the truly progressive option.
The proposed bill would provide 100% income-replacement for workers making $52,000 or less. How does that not target low-income and minority groups? Would they prefer the program pay people even more than their salaries on leave? How in the world can the editorial criticize the bill for being alarmingly radical and yet not progressive enough in the same breath?