As more states take up paid family leave, here’s where the push for a national policy stands

Personal Finance

Families, parents and caregivers call on Congress to include paid family and medical leave in the Build Back Better legislative package during an all-day Nov. 2, 2021 vigil in Washington, D.C.
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When Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, signed new paid family and medical leave legislation into law last week, the “First State” became the 11th in the nation with such a policy.

Yet the fate of federal paid family leave, which has been championed by leading Democrats on Capitol Hill, is still uncertain.

Paid family and medical leave was among the issues Democrats had hoped to address through the Build Back Better package, which they tried to pass through a simple majority this year.

But dissention among party members made it impossible to move the legislation forward.

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With that, the party lost one window of opportunity to move on family leave, an issue largely untouched by Congress since the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which gives some workers the ability to take unpaid time off for family or medical reasons.

“At the current moment, federal efforts around a bold paid leave program are stalled,” said Adrienne Schweer, head of the paid family leave task force at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Delaware and Maryland are the latest states to add paid family and medical leave policies.

Other states with laws in place include Rhode Island, California, New Jersey, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon and Colorado, as well as Washington, D.C.

In response to the recent state moves, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., last week reupped calls for a national policy.

While the state actions are “encouraging,” a “patchwork of policies” could exacerbate inequalities among women, people of color and low-wage workers, Neal said in a statement Thursday. Moreover, the policies will present challenges for employers operating in multiple regions.

“I remain committed to achieving universal, federal paid leave, and will keep pushing for the Senate to act on the House-passed paid leave measure we crafted in the Ways and Means Committee last year,” Neal said.

With that proposal, Democrats had pushed for up to 12 weeks leave for eligible workers. As Build Back Better negotiations evolved, that was whittled down to four weeks. Discussions also turned to just including new parents in order to keep costs down.

You’ll see more candidates talking about the issue on both sides of the aisle this fall.
Adrienne Schweer
head of the paid family leave task force at the Bipartisan Policy Center

Now that negotiations have stopped, workers are left with uncertainty.

“What we’ve heard from a lot of our advocates in the wake of the Delaware and Maryland wins is rage” as to why policies do not exist in their own state or at the federal level, said Molly Day, executive director at Paid Leave for the United States.  

“People really see the inequity and it’s increasingly going to be a problem for businesses,” Day said.

Yet what happens next on Capitol Hill is still up in the air, according to Schweer at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Democrats are working on another reconciliation package, however it’s not clear exactly what is included.

Once a September deadline for that passes, that could pave the way for more robust bipartisan discussions around the issue in October, Schweer said.

Because the issue polls well with Republican and independent voters, it may come up during campaign season.

“You’ll see more candidates talking about the issue on both sides of the aisle this fall,” Scheer said. “Hopefully there’s a call to action next Congress.”

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