DC Council Chairman Mendelson recently recommended revisions to DC’s proposed Paid Family Leave program, in an effort to create a program that is both fiscally responsible and provides meaningful benefits. He should be applauded for working to move this proposal closer to becoming a reality. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute supports many of the new proposals and offered its own recommendations for modifying others. In particular, the program should be designed to make sure low-wage workers are able to take the time off they need to care for themselves, a new child, or an ill family member.
At a hearing earlier this month, witnesses shared powerful personal stories to show that the Chairman’s proposal would narrow benefits too much. The proposal would not cover leave for mental health services, for example, or allow residents to take paid leave to care for an ill parent. DCFPI agrees that these changes go too far and should be revisited.
DCFPI also shared a number of other observations and recommendations for creating a strong program.
- The wage replacement rate for low-wage workers should not drop below 90 percent: DCFPI supports the chairman’s proposal to reduce the wage replacement rate from 100 percent to 90 percent for the lowest-wage workers. But, we would not support any further reduction. If the replacement rate were lowered further, many low-wage workers would not be able to afford taking time off and thus would not have real access to paid family leave.
- Workers should have jobs protected if they take paid family leave: The original proposal would ensure that workers can return to their job after taking leave, as long as they have been at their job six months or more. The Chairman’s proposal would shift that to 12 months. Yet many low-wage industries, such as retail, have high rates of employee turnover. A 12-month waiting period for job protections for workers who take leave means that many workers, especially low-wage workers, would not be able to take leave because they lack job protections.
- Paid Family Leave should include as many DC residents as possible: The chairman’s proposal would exclude residents who work outside of the District or those working for the District or federal government. This means that an estimated 40 percent of residents would be unable to access paid family leave benefits that would be beneficial to them and their families. Including these residents in the paid family leave program would broaden the base of participants, which should reduce the risk of fund volatility, in addition to ensuring that all DC residents have access to this important benefit.
- Raise benefits over time if possible: If the paid family leave fund appears to be running a regular surplus, the Council should revisit the program’s design to expand benefits, including increasing the maximum length of assistance from the 12 weeks proposed by Chairman Mendelson to the 16 weeks in the original legislation.
We look forward to continued progress toward a paid family leave program that supports all DC residents well.
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