If you’re planning to start a family, the nation’s capital could soon become the best place to do it. Legislation introduced Tuesday would give nearly every full-time and part-time employee in Washington, D.C., 16 weeks of paid family leave, which could be used to bond with a newborn or adopted child, deal with illness, recover from a military deployment or care for a sick family member.
The measure is supported by the majority of the D.C. Council and by President Barack Obama’s administration, which sees it as a way to work around a gridlocked Congress that has stopped most of the president’s ideas to address income inequality, according to the Washington Post. The administration hopes the bill will allow poor families to take time off when they otherwise might not be able to afford to do so.
“The Obama administration has realized the action is on the state and local level, and they gave us the money to model how this could actually work,” D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman, a lead supporter of the measure, told the Washington Post. “We now have a national platform and a great opportunity with this legislation to show how it can be done.”
The family leave plan would offer more than double the length of any program in the country. Just three states have implemented family leave programs in the last 10 years, with New Jersey and California having the most generous programs at six weeks of partial paid leave. That's still much less than some European nations, which allow parents to take up to one year off after having a child.
The program would be funded by a new tax on Washington employers. The D.C. Chamber of Commerce objected to the proposal Monday when it sent a letter to the council. The letter argued that the business community has not seen the Department of Labor-funded research the council used in developing the legislation, and that forcing employers to pay for the family-leave program “would be unprecedented and make the District of Columbia dangerously uncompetitive.”
All D.C. employers would be required to pay into the fund depending on their size. Employers such as lobbying groups and law firms with highly paid employees would pay the equivalent of 1 percent of each employee’s salary, or about $1,500 per year per worker, according to the Washington Post. For companies that employ minimum wage workers, they would pay about 0.6 percent of each employee’s pay, meaning about $131 per year.
“The fact of the matter is, if you’re making less than $1,000 a week, you can’t make ends meet on a fraction of your pay. You can’t afford to take that leave,” said David Grosso, who is chairman of the council’s education committee. “In this country, we really don’t reward strong families the way we should.”