Paid Family Leave: Especially Good for Residents East of the River and DC’s Small Businesses

Paid family leave—adopted in an initial vote last Tuesday by the DC Council—is poised to make a big difference in the lives of workers, while also strengthening DC’s economy. The benefits will be broad, but especially helpful to some. Low-income communities of color will see tremendous gains in economic security and public health from having paid leave to care for themselves, a new child, or an ill family member. And small businesses will benefit from being able to provide a benefit to their workers that many currently cannot.

Under paid family leave, workers will be able to take 8 weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child, 6 weeks to care for an ill relative, and 2 weeks for workers for a personal medical need.

UPLA Will Benefit Residents East of the River

Paid family leave will benefit two-thirds of working District residents, those who work in the city for a private-sector business.[1]

Workers who live east of the Anacostia River stand to benefit the most from the legislation. The program would replace 90 percent of wages for the lowest-paid workers, to make sure that people living on tight budgets can actually use the paid leave benefits available to them.[3] This means that working residents from Wards 7 and 8 will see a higher percentage of their wages replaced while taking leave.

Beyond that, paid family leave will improve public health, especially by enabling parents to be with their newborns. More new mothers are likely to breastfeed when they have paid leave, which benefits the health of both mother and baby in numerous ways. In DC, only 58 percent of low-income infants are breastfed, compared to 78 percent overall.[4] Based on California’s experience, paid family leave could cut nearly in half the difference in the breastfeeding rate between low-income infants and infants overall in DC. Paid family leave also reduces infant mortality,[5] which remains high in Wards 5, 7, and 8.[6]

UPLA Will Benefit Small Businesses

UPLA is designed as a social insurance program, which means that all employers—despite their size—can benefit. This is especially helpful to small businesses that otherwise are unable to afford to provide these benefits. This is the same problem that small businesses have faced when trying to provide health insurance coverage—the smaller the employer, the smaller the “risk pool” that the insurer must cover, so the cost per person is much higher.[7] Because all private sector employers in the District are covered under UPLA, the risk pool is much greater, which lowers the cost for everyone. This levels the playing field for smaller employers to be able to offer the same benefits as their larger competitors, at the same price.

Overall, paid family leave is an investment in the city’s most vulnerable residents and smallest employers, which will make DC a more attractive place to work and conduct business.

The City Council takes a final vote on the bill on December 20, and then it goes to the Mayor for her signature. Because of the many benefits associated with paid leave, DCFPI urges the City Council to and Mayor to pass UPLA quickly.


[1] The bill does not cover Federal workers, DC government workers, or DC residents who work outside of the District.


[3] Those making 1.5 times the minimum wage or less are eligible for benefits that cover 90 percent of their wages. The program replaces 50 percent of wages higher than that level, up to $1,000 per week.


[5] Jody Heymann, Amy Raub, and Alison Earle, “Creating and Using New Data Sources to Analyze the Relationship Between Social Policy and Global Health: The Case of Maternal Leave,” Public Health Reports, Vol. 126.3, Sep. 2011.


[7] For example, in a 1,000 person organization, for one person to come down with cancer might be costly, but the cost per person is not all that much higher. For one person to come down with cancer in a three person organization, on the other hand, the cost per person skyrockets. Insurance companies hedge against this, and thus charge a higher rate to smaller organizations to cover their exposure.