Proposed D.C. Policy Would Offer 16 Weeks Paid Family Leave
October 7, 2015 7:21 AM   Subscribe

The District would become the most generous place in the country for a worker to take time off after giving birth or to care for a dying parent under a measure proposed in the D.C. Council. Under the legislation introduced October 6, "almost every part-time and full-time employee in the nation’s capital would be entitled to 16  weeks of paid family leave to bond with an infant or an adopted child, recover from an illness, recuperate from a military deployment or tend to an ill family member," according to The Washington Post.

Introduced with support from seven of D.C.'s 13-member council, the bill would make D.C. residents earning $52,000/year or less eligible for 100% of their pay for 16 weeks of leave. Residents who earn more than $52,000/year would be eligible for $1,000/week plus 50% of their additional income, capped at $3,000/week.

The paid leave would be supported by a tax on employers equal to 0.6-1.0% of an employee's salary, similar to a state unemployment insurance pool. Almost all D.C. residents would be eligible. District residents who work for the federal government or federal contractors, as well as those who are self-employed, could pay a small fee to opt-in. (WaPo: Would you qualify for paid leave in D.C.?)

The legislation was proposed after the District received a grant from the Department of Labor to study the issue, which was used to support research by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "It’s a very cost-effective program, it doesn’t require a lot of money to provide a whole lot of benefit," said Jeffrey Hayes, study director at IWPR.

If the bill passes in the D.C. Council and is signed into law by Mayor Muriel Bowser, it would be subject to a 30-day Congressional review. While it would take a joint effort of the House, Senate, and president to veto the bill, a member of Congress could potentially stop D.C. from spending any tax dollars collected from residents to implement the program (which did happen with the District's marijuana decriminalization law).

Currently, only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island offer paid family leave though those provide only partial paid leave and benefits last for 4-6 weeks (4 in RI, 6 in CA and NJ). (NCSL State Family and Medical Leave Laws)
posted by kat518 (32 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good Luck D.C. The rest of the nation looks to you to lead. May private interests (of public officials) not interfere with your public's welfare.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:26 AM on October 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'll admit that I'm pretty jazzed about this thing and I rarely post so I apologize if I didn't get something right here. Given more hours in the day, I'd like to read the actual legislation itself. I briefly scanned it but if there's something wonky in there that I missed, my bad.

That all said, after getting over my initial excitement about this bill, I asked a local small business owner what he thought. He said it sounded great and noted that the council just lowered the corporate tax rate, making it competitive with Maryland and Virginia. So while it would be a new tax for employers, they just got a tax cut.
posted by kat518 at 7:31 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


This would be so huge; I live in DC and, among other issues, childcare costs here are astronomical (I know we had an FPP the other day about this) and providing this kind of support to families would be absolutely huge, just enormous. I really hope this is the start of even more and bigger reforms but even on its own it could help change lives.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:33 AM on October 7, 2015


Good luck DC! Maybe if it passes for you, Texas will get it in a few decades.
posted by emjaybee at 7:40 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Good. Make it happen, D.C.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


The paid leave would be supported by a tax on employers equal to 0.6-1.0% of an employee's salary, similar to a state unemployment insurance pool.

This is the thing about so many of these supports that we could have, but don't; they are actually really affordable once you spread the cost around. I'm well enough paid that I imagine I'd be at the upper end of that range and it's still an amount that I can totally spare. Please, take 1% of my salary! I'd part with that in a heartbeat for everyone else to get paid leave.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


a member of Congress could potentially stop D.C. from spending any tax dollars collected from residents to implement the program

Unfortunately, there's no shortage of assholes to choose from. This is DOA, I suspect.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:42 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry D.C. that you have to be the experimental lab that we should just do as a matter-of-course and don't get to the benefits of being a real state. But thank you for your service.

A few years back, my partner was quite ill, and though my employer was super-flexible about this, the ability to just be "off" and not work and paid would have been amazing, and I had family support from his visiting mother for a lot of the more serious time. That we don't give this to new parents and those returning from the military as a matter of course is shameful the more I think about it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:45 AM on October 7, 2015


Is this DC residents or DC workers or only DC residents who work in DC? All the descriptions are unclear on this point.

In Canada the money for parental leaves is from unemployment insurance. Essentially having a child makes you eligible to receive unemployment insurance for X weeks, because you're not working, even if you have a job.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:46 AM on October 7, 2015


Is this DC residents or DC workers or only DC residents who work in DC? All the descriptions are unclear on this point.

According to the Washington Post, it's people who work in DC; unless you work for the federal government, then it only applies if you also live in DC (and you will need to pay a small fee to participate since DC can't make the federal government go along with it). As a someone who lives in Maryland, hopefully if it works, maybe they'll expand it for the rest of us!
posted by scififan at 7:51 AM on October 7, 2015


I work in DC but live in MD, but I also work for the Fed Gov so I don't think this would apply to me. In any case this would be awesome, except "subject to a 30-day Congressional review" doesn't give me much hope. I know quite a few people that live in DC and it's really unfortunate that their lives are dependent on the whims of a few people representing residents of everywhere outside the city, and the one person that represents DC residents have no say. Boggles my fucking mind every time I think about it.
posted by numaner at 7:52 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, there's no shortage of assholes to choose from. This is DOA, I suspect.

I concur but the thing that heartens me is that the last time Congress got cranky about how District residents spend their own money was regarding marijuana decriminalization. Other times have been related to abortion and needle exchange programs. Family leave is not a hot button social issue. You don't get to claim to be "tough on crime" or "a pro-life warrior" for standing in between parents who want to stay home with their newborns or people who want to care for sick relatives.

As I understand it, the bill would cover nearly all D.C. residents. D.C. residents working for D.C. employers would be covered by a tax paid by the employer. D.C. residents working for the federal government, federal contractors, employers in other states, or those who are self-employed could opt in. D.C. government cannot compel employers in other states or the federal government to pay to cover their employees, which is why the employees would have to pay a fee to opt in.
posted by kat518 at 7:52 AM on October 7, 2015


Unfortunately, there's no shortage of assholes to choose from. This is DOA, I suspect.

Look, I get the bitterness about these clowns. But can we not just shrug this off and declare defeat? If you have intimate knowledge about the nonsense rules the District has to go through under home rule and have some specifics to provide please chime in - the way they shake out can be hard to follow sometimes even for those of us who are educated about them. But the fact is the majority of the nation knows somewhere between Jack and Shit about the way the supposed true believers in local self government meddle in DC business.

So rather than throwing up our hands about it maybe we can get excited and get some visibility here for this venture. If the meddlesome jackholes decide to then tromp all over it we can have an opportunity to highlight again the fact that District residents have to listen to the opinions of 435 dipshits without getting to vote against a single one.
posted by phearlez at 7:53 AM on October 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


Is this DC residents or DC workers or only DC residents who work in DC? All the descriptions are unclear on this point.

Reading the language of the bill (the second link) it looks like the determinant factor is where you do your work (50% or more of your work time in the District), but it doesn't apply to either the Federal Government or the District itself.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:54 AM on October 7, 2015


Does anyone have details on the opt-in provision for federal employees? That seems promising, but it also seems like it might cause a potential problem: if enough people can "opt-in" for a year, take the benefit, and then opt-out again after they've taken the time off, they could bankrupt the system or shift a much larger portion of the costs to private employers.

It has to be a system where all non-parents help support parents, otherwise you run into adverse selection problems. Yet DC has this problem that a lot of local salaries are tied to the one exempt employer.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:58 AM on October 7, 2015


I know quite a few people that live in DC and it's really unfortunate that their lives are dependent on the whims of a few people representing residents of everywhere outside the city, and the one person that represents DC residents have no say. Boggles my fucking mind every time I think about it.

I will get out of here before this consumes my day but seriously, if it bothers you that members of Congress have more sway over the District than the officials elected by District residents, please, for the love of God, let your members of Congress know. Not just related to this issue but in general. It pisses me off every time I get a "call your member of Congress" type email and I think, my delegate is awesome but literally no one cares what she thinks.
posted by kat518 at 7:59 AM on October 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


It threatens big business interests. Bowser will never sign it.

As cynical as I am about Congress's oversight of DC, I actually doubt that this will attract their attention -- they rarely use the 30-day review period to veto a bill, and instead pull strings by attaching riders to unrelated federal laws that severely limit what DC can do via appropriations and budgeting.

However, the timing of this is fortuitous, as we're coming up on an election year. This isn't a hot-button issue for either party, and I don't think that the incumbents know how their constituents will react to this. It would be risky for any congressperson or party to vociferously oppose this.

But, again. We've got our own business-interests-above-all-else mayor, so Congress will never even get the chance to veto this.

Our mayor is terrible.

On the other hand, small businesses have lots of reasons to love this, although I suspect that most will reflexively oppose it. However, DC seems hellbent on attracting startups, and this would certainly help that. [A California-style abolition of non-compete agreements would also help that goal, and would cost nothing.]
posted by schmod at 8:17 AM on October 7, 2015


Look, I get the bitterness about these clowns. But can we not just shrug this off and declare defeat?

The problem isn't the 30 day window for Congress to overturn the law by act. It's the fact that *any single member of Congress* can prevent DC from spending any tax money on this, which basically means every single member of Congress has veto power over DC legislation, because if you can't spend money to develop and promulgate the regulations, the law simply doesn't have any effect.

Yes, this is stupid and wrong and evil. But that's the way it is, and Congress as it currently exists will never ever ever let it change, because giving DC more power gives the Democratic Party more power, and that's simply not acceptable.

Heck, at one time, there was an offer to give Utah an extra representative to allow DC to have one without changing the balance. The GOP flat rejected it.

Again, see DC's marijuana decriminalization law. It passed, it's on the books, and some Congressbastard said "You can't spend tax money on that." So, possession is still a crime in DC, because they can't change the regulations that say it is, because that would take some time of an employee of the DC government, who is paid by taxes, and doing so would be spending tax money on that legislation.

There's a reason that DC had the "Taxation without Representation" license plates. Of course, Congress just voted an act to make them change it back, because in all reasonable dictionaries, there's a picture of Congress next to the "bag of dicks" entry.
posted by eriko at 9:01 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah I know a few things about the way this sausage gets made. I'm saying that declaring this DOA is the wrong thing to do because (a) it cedes this as an okay way for things to be and it ain't and (2) the fact that this is how it works makes the politicking all the more important.

Not only because there's some opportunity to snatch some statehood education victory from the jaws of paid leave defeat, if it comes to that, but because making it costly to reps to pull this shit helps discourage it. The folks in Andy Harris' district did not enjoy getting negative attention because their clown decided to meddle. There's no assurance that the prospect of getting made fun of by John Oliver is going to stop the next idiot but it beats rolling over and playing dead.
posted by phearlez at 9:16 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Again, see DC's marijuana decriminalization law. It passed, it's on the books, and some Congressbastard said "You can't spend tax money on that." So, possession is still a crime in DC, because they can't change the regulations that say it is, because that would take some time of an employee of the DC government, who is paid by taxes, and doing so would be spending tax money on that legislation.

This isn't true. They threatened to defund decriminalization, but didn't actually do it (and there were some suggestions that defunded decriminalization would just have been defacto legalization since there wouldn't have been money to arrest people).

In any case, there was a referendum in 2014 about full legalization, and as of now it is completely legal to possess up to two ounces/six plants and to give an ounce legally to another adult (selling remains illegal). It's been that way since February.
posted by Copronymus at 9:36 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


please, for the love of God, let your members of Congress know
The thing is, my congressman, John Delaney, already always vote for DC rights and statehood. It's all the other people we have to convince.
posted by numaner at 11:19 AM on October 7, 2015


please, for the love of God, let your members of Congress know
The thing is, my congressman, John Delaney, already always vote for DC rights and statehood. It's all the other people we have to convince.


Congress runs on influence and deal-making. If your Representative and Senators only vote for things, they are giving up on a huge part of the process.
posted by Etrigan at 11:23 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Interesting to note that today, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a plan for 18 months of parental leave, if re-elected. One of the other two main parties, the Liberals, have made a similar pledge.
posted by hepta at 11:53 AM on October 7, 2015


I might be irrationally optimistic - it wouldn't be the first time - but I think there's a decent chance that this zany idea becomes reality. Regarding the mayor, her veto can be overridden by the council. And I don't think she'll veto it. That's not a great strategy for reelection. And she's gotten praise from the Labor Department for supporting the underlying study.

As for Congress, it sucks when they interfere in local governance but it doesn't happen often, which is why it's a big deal when it does. I gave three examples of times when it has happened - marijuana decriminalization, abortion, and needle exchanges. Marijuana is still illegal in most of this country so while it's annoying that Congress got involved, it's not shocking. Abortion was a gift to the GOP from Obama (thanks, Obama) so those clowns would pass a budget. And federal funding for needle exchange programs was banned until 2009 so again, it sucks that Congress got involved but it's not shocking.

AFAIK, there are no federal bans on programs for paid family and medical leave and I don't think it's an issue for either the incoming or outgoing speaker of the house. Again, maybe I'm irrationally optimistic here. But maybe it'd be more productive to think about what will happen if this does become law instead of preemptively writing the policy's obituary.
posted by kat518 at 12:27 PM on October 7, 2015


(Also not to nitpick but saying that marijuana possession is "completely legal" in D.C. is a little bit of an exaggeration if I understand correctly. It's legal according to D.C. law for recreational and medicinal purposes but not federal law, the same as it is in Colorado, Washington state and elsewhere. And D.C. law is completely irrelevant in the 29% of the District that is federal land, including national parks okay I'll show myself out now)
posted by kat518 at 12:33 PM on October 7, 2015


saying that marijuana possession is "completely legal" in D.C. is a little bit of an exaggeration if I understand correctly

That's fair. I've been following the legal situation a bit since I live here (and am vaguely trying to convince a co-worker to grow some plants in his office since that would amuse me and has not, as far as I know, been addressed by our workplace's policies), but I haven't actually put it to the test or anything.
posted by Copronymus at 4:11 PM on October 7, 2015


...entitled to 16  weeks of paid family leave to bond with an infant or an adopted child, recover from an illness, recuperate from a military deployment or tend to an ill family member

...tax on employers equal to 0.6-1.0% of an employee's salary

Let's do some math on this.

A typical worker might have a 40-year long career, working 50 weeks per year. That's 2000 weeks of work, give or take.

2000 * 0.01 = 20
2000 * 0.006 = 12

So, the taxes on employment will be just about enough to cover each worker taking around 16 weeks off over the course of a lifetime. Anything more than that and the system runs a deficit, and next thing you know there's an additional 5% payroll tax in DC.

If the average worker takes more than two days per year, the system is unsustainable.

If every female worker in the district takes 32 weeks off to have two kids over the course of her lifetime, and nobody else takes anything at all, the system is unsustainable.
posted by Hatashran at 5:52 PM on October 7, 2015


If the average worker takes more than two days per year, the system is unsustainable.

There are a whole lot of people in DC who make more than $52,000 per year. Because these folks would receive less than 100% of their salary, your equation is bunk.
posted by toxic at 7:45 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are a whole lot of people in DC who make more than $52,000 per year. Because these folks would receive less than 100% of their salary, your equation is bunk.

I'm struggling to understand this objection. The average family income in DC is about $90k, i.e $45k each, but it's drastically bimodal: lots of high earners and lots of low earners, and not so many in the middle. And a lot of it is driven by the federal government, which is exempt. What's more, we only need worry about the average, anyway, because that's how averages work, except that many more high income people will be exempt than low income people. And more low income workers will take the benefit than high income workers, because of birth rates and income statistics and professional women waiting to have any kids at all.

It's at least a little complicated.

Hopefully someone did the actuarial math on this bill! But we should be able to see and reproduce it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:06 AM on October 8, 2015


The thing that gives me hope for the sustainability of the proposed program is that in a given year, I don't have *that* many colleagues who would take the benefit if offered. Sure, more pregnant women would take time to be with their kids. Hopefully more fathers would as well. I'm in an age range where it seems like everyone is getting pregnant but thinking of my current and last jobs, really, there are only a handful of people who got pregnant or had babies (or became fathers) within the last year. And I work/worked at large organizations. Fortunately, I also only know a handful of people, if that, who could have used paid leave in the last year to take care of sick family members or deal with a personal health issue.

Assuming that this program encourages more people to take leave, that means instead of having two colleagues who take time off to have babies, maybe four colleagues will take time off. If those people quit, got fired, or died, we'd still have to deal with replacing them. Their pay would come from the program while the company could use the money they were planning to use to pay those workers to find temporary help. It'd be hard but I don't think the sky would fall. And in the mean time, I won't have to worry as much about colleagues quitting to work somewhere else because the benefits are better or because they have to take care of a sick relative and there's no way they can do that otherwise.

Also, though the proposal includes funding for a public education campaign, I wouldn't expect a lot of people to utilize the program within the first year or two simply because they won't know about it, so they're just paying into it while the fund grows. Then the fund will benefit from compounding interest, increasing the odds that it will be sustainable.

It's complicated and math isn't my strong suit but based on what little I know about the program, it doesn't scream "unsustainable!" to me.
posted by kat518 at 7:19 AM on October 8, 2015


Of course, I also assumed that all of the bureaucrats administering the program would work for free, and that there would be no other overhead costs.

We shall see. But I'm happy to take a wager that, within four years of this program going live, there will be substantial restrictions on it, along the lines of:
  • You have to have been with your current employer for at least 3 years before you can take any leave, and then you can only take up to one week for each year you've been with said employer
  • Invasive investigations into anyone taking leave to ensure that they're not doing anything fun like going on vacation
  • Significant increases in the taxes funding it
  • Low lifetime benefit limits, in the neighborhood of 18-20 weeks
posted by Hatashran at 3:28 PM on October 8, 2015


Most Americans who are eligible for paid vacation leave don't take all of it. When companies offer unlimited paid vacation, people actually take less time off, not more. I don't understand why some people seem to think this type of policy is going to lead to an epidemic of paid leave abuse.
posted by kat518 at 12:37 PM on October 11, 2015


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