July Brings New Benefits and Wage Increases for District Workers and Families

Today, the District becomes a better place to live, work, and raise a family. DC workers can now claim local paid leave benefits to attend to urgent family needs without having to worry about the loss of income. And the minimum wage in DC has increased from $14.00 per hour to $15.00 per hour—making workers better able to take care of themselves and their families. We still have a long way to go to ensure the District can be a place where everyone succeeds, but this is welcome progress.

Paid Family Leave Benefit Payments Commence

The Universal Paid Leave Act, passed by the DC Council in 2016, grants eight weeks of parental leave for parents to be with their children; six weeks of family leave for workers to care for an ill relative; and two weeks of medical leave for workers to care for one’s own health needs. DC’s paid leave structure ensures that the lowest-wage workers benefit the most. The program replaces 90 percent of wages for low-wage workers earning up to $22.50 per hour, with a smaller replacement rate for those with higher pay. In programs in other states, replacement is 60 percent and low-wage workers often do not take time off because the benefits are too low. If you’re wondering how DC’s paid leave policy will benefit you, check out the paid leave benefit calculator, found here on the Department of Employment Services website.

Last week, the Chief Financial Officer certified that the Universal Paid Leave Fund balance is sufficient to proceed with benefit payments, despite the coronavirus-induced economic downturn. The Committee on Labor and Workforce Development’s markups to the Mayor’s proposed budget for FY 2021 includes assistance to help workers navigate workplace leave laws and to ensure workers accessing paid leave have anti-retaliation protections. The committee will hold a public roundtable on July 9 on the implementation of the paid leave program. The committee hopes to eventually consider expansions to the program in the future given the overly restrictive and exclusionary final rules imposed by the Executive.

New Minimum Wage and Tipped Minimum Wage Goes into Effect

DC’s minimum wage has increased from $14.00 per hour to $15.00 per hour for workers, no matter the size of their employer. The global health pandemic has led to a spike in immediate health and human service needs across the District and this increase is needed now more than ever to keep families stable. The tipped minimum wage also increased from $4.45 per hour to $5.00 per hour. Initiative 77, which voters approved in 2018, would have eliminated the tipped minimum wage, but the Council repealed it. The Committee on Labor and Workforce Development’s budget markups propose funding the public education component of the repeal “compromise” legislation—which has remained unfunded since its creation. The public education provision is to raise awareness and educate the public about the rights of tipped workers.

Due to centuries of structural racism and racist policies that restricted Black workers to the lowest paying jobs, the Black median household income in DC is $45,200 and has not changed over the past decade, despite a boom in economic growth up to the pandemic. Nearly half of all workers who will benefit from a $15 minimum wage are Black, and another 24 percent are Latinx. Similarly, people of color disproportionately make up 70 percent of DC’s tipped workforce and will most benefit from the tipped minimum wage increase. But these increases are not enough and will not close the deeply entrenched racial wealth gap in DC. A larger redistribution of resources, land, and other wealth building opportunities are needed for that.

Resources for Workers

Our partners have a number of resources available for DC workers to learn more about their rights and the paid family leave program. Check them out!

  • DC Jobs with Justice and partners- Know Your Rights in a Reopened DC webinar with Attorney General Karl Racine, Washington Lawyers’ Committee, and First Shift Justice Project TODAY at 4pm!
  • The DC Paid Family Leave campaign website will be updated with FAQs and one-pagers on your rights.
  • The First Shift Justice Project will be able to assist people with applying for paid family leave, appealing denials, or addressing retaliation.
  • DC Office of Paid Family Leave website has resources for both workers and employers.