Here’s Why Workers Need Paid Family Leave ASAP

Maya Warren recently had a baby via C-section and was back to work just eight days later—because she couldn’t afford to take time off. Her story is a powerful reminder of how urgent it is to get DC’s paid family and medical leave program underway. With paid leave, Ms. Warren could have spent time bonding with her baby and recuperating.

The Universal Paid Leave Act (UPLA) is now officially DC law—the mandatory 30-day congressional review period ended on April 7. It cannot move forward, however, until $20 million is set aside to develop an IT system and support other startup costs. Unfortunately, Mayor Bowser’s proposed budget failed to allocate this funding. It is now up to the DC Council to find the money to fund this program, so that workers can begin receiving benefits in 2020, per the law.

UPLA will give 8 weeks of paid leave for new parents to be with their children, 6 weeks to workers who need to care for an ill relative, and 2 weeks for workers to address their own health needs.

Heartbreaking stories like Maya Warren’s, a home health aide who earns only about $20,000 a year, are far too common. Paid family and medical leave is rarely offered by employers—especially to the lowest wage and most vulnerable workers. This leaves far too many workers the impossible choice of either addressing their family’s medical needs or being able to make ends meet.

UPLA was designed to be especially beneficial to workers like Ms. Warren, by replacing 90 percent of wages for the lowest-paid workers. This means that paid family leave will be most helpful to low-income communities of color, including residents east of the Anacostia River. Working DC residents in Ward 7 and Ward 8 will, on average, get more of their wages replaced under paid family and medical leave than workers from other parts of the city.

Also, UPLA will have positive public health impacts without slowing DC’s economic growth, according to a thorough analysis by the DC Council Budget Office.

The $20 million needed this year to fund the start-up costs of paid family leave (on top of $20 million allocated last year) could be funded by small changes to DC’s capital budget, or by changing DC’s fiscal policy to allow spending some of the recent surplus.

Once the start-up costs are provided, the program will be self-sustaining through an employer payroll tax.

UPLA will help the vast majority of DC residents, improve public health, and address economic disparities. We urge the DC Council to find the $20 million needed in the FY 2018 budget to get this important program off the ground.