Newsletter: Paid Family Leave
In case you just returned from a remote part of the world where they have paid family leave—that is, almost everywhere except the United States—you might have missed the introduction last week of our universal family leave bill for D.C.
I’m so excited to have introduced the legislation on Oct. 6 with David Grosso, the bill’s co-writer and my fellow independent at-large councilmember. Many thanks to the hard work of advocates, including the D.C. Paid Family Leave Coalition and Jews United for Justice, as well as Legislative Director Ari Weisbard and Chief of Staff Kitty Richards for making this first step in securing paid family leave for the District a reality. Thanks also to Councilmember Grosso and his staff for their partnership in developing the bill and our five colleagues who signed on as co-introducers (Nadeau, McDuffie, Allen, May, and Cheh). The bill has been referred to the Committee of the Whole under Chairman Mendelson. You can read the full press release here and follow the bill’s status here.
I’ve been overwhelmed by emails saying how groundbreaking and impactful this bill is going to be. I’ve heard from expectant parents and people who have suffered through severe illnesses or cared for family members. They’re cheering us on and asking how soon this benefit might begin. I’ve heard from small businesses saying how this bill would make it easier to offer an attractive benefit to their employees. I’ve also heard from the D.C. Chamber of Commerce expressing concerns. This newsletter is focused on understanding how the program would work, how you would benefit, and how you can support pushing the legislation forward.
LEGISLATIVE WORK: Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015
Why the District Needs Paid Family and Medical Leave
No one should have to choose between caring for themselves or a loved one and financial survival. That is why nearly every country in the world offers some form of paid leave. Paid family leave for infant care can decrease infant and maternal mortality, improve the mental health of both mothers and fathers, improve infant bonding, and contribute to better early childhood learning and social and emotional development. It also helps women stay in the workforce after having children and encourages fathers to be more involved as parents.
Paid leave will also allow all of us to address our own serious illness, care for our children, and be there for aging parents, without putting our family’s economic well-being in jeopardy.
But it’s not just employees and their families who benefit; paid family leave is good for business and the economy as well. Paid leave can increase workplace productivity and reduce costly turnover as employees are able to take leave when needed and then return to work. Because it is an earned benefit paid through a government fund, rather than simply a mandate, businesses can benefit from all of the increased productivity and reduced turnover that paid leave provides, without having to figure out how to cover individual employee salaries when they happen to need leave. This is hugely important for small businesses, who would have a difficult time budgeting to cover the salary of employees for an extended period of leave while also paying for temporary replacements.
How the Program Works
Circumstances That Qualify For Paid Lave
- If you have a serious health condition.
- If you or your partner give birth to or adopt a child.
- If you need to provide care for a family member with a serious health condition.
- Individuals who experience one of these “qualifying events” can take up to 16 weeks of paid leave. This is the current amount of unpaid leave time provided under the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act.
- Benefits would equal 100% of average weekly wages up to $1,000 a week and then 50% of average earnings above that amount, up to a maximum benefit of $3,000 a week.
- If someone loses employment, they would still be able to get benefits during their leave based on the wages they earned in the 15 months leading up to their qualifying event.
- Employers would still be free to offer additional leave benefits to supplement, but not to replace, what the legislation provides.
Private sector employers in D.C. would contribute a set percent of, at most, 1% of their payroll for their employees who work primarily in D.C., similar to unemployment contributions. The tax falls on employers rather than employees because Congress doesn’t allow the District to levy commuter taxes. It is critical to cover anyone who works in D.C. and not just D.C. residents—otherwise some employers might discriminate against D.C. residents in hiring.
Any D.C. resident who is employed, but whose employer the District isn’t allowed to require to contribute, would contribute the same percentage of their pay to the fund themselves, to ensure that they have access to the same benefits. About 40% of employed D.C. residents work primarily in Maryland, Virginia, or another state or are federal employees who would be covered in this way.
People who live outside the District and work for the federal government would not be part of the program, because Congress doesn’t allow us to require commuters or the federal government to contribute to cover their costs.
Self-employed D.C. residents will be able to choose whether to participate, allowing the District’s entrepreneurs to benefit from family and medical leave if they need it. If they participate, they’d pay the same tax as employers on their net self-employment income and it would be included as part of their benefit calculation. In order to prevent self-employed individuals from participating only when a leave is expected (which would drive up the costs for everyone else), there would be specific limits on when individuals could opt-out and a waiting period for opting back in.
D.C. Government Employees
Employees of the D.C. government would continue to get their salary during paid leaves, but the number of weeks of leave would be raised from 8 to 16 in order to match what the bill provides for private sector workers. The bill would also allow D.C. government employees to use the paid leave for their own serious health conditions, as it does for private sector employees. Currently, D.C. government employees are only covered for family care and not for their own serious illnesses.
How You Can Support the Legislation
We need you to voice your support for bringing paid family and medical leave to the District!
- Send an email of support to the Mayor and my colleagues on the Council, particularly the six who have yet to sign on to the bill, and join the D.C. Paid Family Leave email campaign!
- Promote the D.C. Paid Family Leave campaign online through your personal social media accounts and your organization’s accounts. Check out #PaidLeave4DC to see how it’s done on Twitter!
- Meet with a D.C. councilmember to express your or your organization’s support. Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers Bonds, Evans, Todd, Alexander, and Orange did not sign on to co-introduce the bill. However, it’s important to thank those councilmembers who did co-introduce and ask them to keep supporting a strong bill that provides enough leave for D.C. families.
- Connect with one of the awesome advocacy organizations driving the D.C. Paid Family Leave discussion—and add your organization or business to the list! Organizations participating in the D.C. Paid Family Leave Coalition are listed on the campaign website.
- Share resources with your friends, family, and other District residents about the benefits of passing the paid leave bill when it goes before the Council for a vote. You can find answers to frequently asked questions and a short overview on paid leave on my website.
More information about Paid Leave is on the coalition's website, www.DCpaidfamilyleave.org.
WHERE I'VE BEEN
IN THE COMMUNITY
The Literacy Lab: Though I don’t sit on the Education Committee, making sure every D.C. resident has access to a high-quality public education is a top priority of mine. I was recently asked to help get the word out about opportunities to become a paid tutor. The Literacy Lab places trained, full-time early literacy tutors in public schools to provide children in Pre-K through grade 3 with daily one-on-one literacy intervention. Tutors are supported by coaches and receive ongoing professional development. In return for their service, they also receive a modest living stipend and basic health coverage. The Literacy Lab is currently recruiting tutors for full-time positions for Oct. 2015-July 2016. The application is online here, and a video preview of the work is here. You can contact Tom Dillon at [email protected] with any questions.
Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): The Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) recently announced a new application process for assistance for low-income residents whose services have been disconnected. To be eligible for the program, residents with disconnected services must have an appointment and must register from Oct. 1 – Oct. 31. Appointments for residents whose services are still active begin Nov. 1. A flyer with more information about the program can be found here. The online application is on DOEE’s website here. For questions about LIHEAP procedures, call 311. If you know someone who could benefit from this program, please share the information!
Domestic Violence Awareness Month: I also want to take a moment to recognize October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the District. Last Tuesday, the Council presented a ceremonial resolution, and I stopped by an awareness event hosted by My Sister’s Place, D.C.’s oldest domestic violence organization, last Friday to hear from survivors. Last year MPD received over 32,000 calls for domestic violence services—this number is way too high. I encourage you to follow the #SpreadLoveDC campaign and learn how you can advocate for a safer community for everyone.
Halloween Festivities: This year, I’ll be participating in two safe trick or treating events! I hope you’ll join me in supporting one or both. Both events are free and open to all children and their families.
- Hilloween on Capitol Hill: Friday, Oct. 30, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. on 7th Street SE between Pennsylvania Avenue and North Carolina Avenue SE.
- Ward 8 Trunk or Treat: Saturday, Oct. 31, from 4:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the Big Chair at the intersection of Martin Luther King Ave. and V Street SE.
Professional Development and Business Seminar: As many of you know, I’m a big advocate for stronger workforce development programs across the District. The University of the Potomac will be hosting a free Professional Development and Business Seminar to help assist working adults and youth become more successful in their search for full time employment. If you or someone you know is interested in going to school or needs help with employment, you can find more information here.
- When: Saturday, Oct. 17 from 10:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. (lunch provided)
- Where: 2070 Chain Bridge Road, Suite G100, Vienna, VA 22182
- Contact: Kimberly Moses at [email protected] or 202-274-2318
Thanks so much.