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Op-Ed: D.C.'s 16-week paid leave act serves as a national model

By Phyllis Smith Asinyanbi     Oct 10, 2015 in Politics
Washington - Conflicts between work and family life are common for U.S. workers. The term "work-life balance" describes the ultimate goal of the employed. D.C.'s proposed 16-week paid family leave would provide benefits to most who live in the nation's capitol.
On Tuesday, the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 was introduced by Council members in the District of Columbia. If legislation passes, the nation's capital would be the first city to offer paid medical and family leave to nearly all residents. Employees would be paid while healing from illness, bonding with an infant or adopted child, caring for sick family members or recuperating after military deployment. To date, only California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have paid family and medical leave. However, California and New Jersey offer six weeks of partial paid leave, while Rhode Island offers four weeks of partial pay. If passed, the D.C. legislation would far surpass this.
Paid leave will help families achieve the balance they are looking for, and although leave is often thought of as a benefit for pregnant women, it's not only about women but entire families, including fathers and extended family. Nevertheless, it is well understood that for every benefit, there is a cost. The funding for the Paid Leave Act will be a tax placed on private D.C. employers. It will be based on a sliding scale, determined by an employee's salary, any where from 0.6 and 1 percent, per Slate. Everyone will not receive the same benefit; employees who earn up to $52,000 yearly will receive 100 percent of their salary during leave. Those who earn more will receive up to $1,000 a week plus 50 percent of their salary, maxing out at $3,000 per week. This is generous, and D.C.'s legislation is an excellent example for other local and state governments that choose to implement similar programs.
Nearly all D.C. employees would be eligible, with the exception of residents who work for the federal government, but are physically located in Maryland and Virginia, because D.C. has no jurisdiction in those states. Federal employees who actually leave in D.C. aren't automatically covered. However, district employees of the federal government and it's contractors can opt into the system at a fee equal to 1 percent of their salaries. That's a small price to pay for coverage that, more than likely, will be needed at some point in life.
Council members David Grosso and Elissa Silverman introduced the legislation. The two had formerly worked to get more paid sick days for restaurant workers and a raise to D.C.'s minimum wage. Paid family leave legislation was supported by a majority of the Council. Silverman said, "The Obama administration has realized the action is on the state and local level, and they gave us the money to model how this could actually work." The legislation was made possible by a grant program that U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said would stop a GOP-led Congress that opted out of dealing with the issue of a low federal minimum wage. Perez commented on the leave proposal:
The United States is one of the few countries on Earth without national paid leave. Fortunately, we have seen remarkable progress . . . where innovative state and local officials are designing paid-leave policies that work for their citizens.
Currently, the Family and Medical leave Act allows U.S. employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually. Stipulations include working for an employer at least 12 months, which includes at least 1,250 hours during the most recent year. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, all government agencies, schools, and private companies nationwide with 50 or more employees are required to offer FMLA. Unfortunately, employees usually deplete vacation days, sick time and personal days to assure that during at least part of the leave, their families will have income.
At least one commonality exists among Oman, Papua New Guinea and the United States. That is, no paid maternity leave. Joining countless other developed countries and offering paid family and medical leave is the right choice for the United States. Perhaps D.C.'s Universal Paid Leave Act will serve as a model for the nation.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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