Paid Family and Medical Leave is Essential for Healthy and Resilient DC Communities

UPDATE:  DC Council Passes Bill Giving Workers in  City Eight Weeks of Paid Family Leave

The ability for a parent to continue to put food on the table when a baby is born, or when a medical emergency requires leave from work, is critical to creating healthy and resilient DC communities. The vast majority of neighborhoods in which LISC works, however, are home to families that cannot financially afford to take such a leave.

Looking at national statistics, only 12% of private sector workers receive some type of paid family leave and only 40% receive paid short-term disability (Department of Labor, 2015). When these numbers are broken down by wage levels, an even bleaker picture emerges for low-wage workers: only 5% can access paid parental and family leave, and only 16% can access paid short-term disability (Department of Labor, 2015).

As an organization devoted to creating neighborhoods that are good places to live, work, raise children, and conduct business, paid family and medical leave fundamentally furthers LISC’s mission. Studies show that the lack of maternal leave can have an adverse impact on infant health and mortality (The Future of Children, 2011). Indeed, in one of the Wards where LISC has historically targeted its neighborhood investments – Ward 8 – infant mortality is more than 10 times higher than in Ward 3 (Save the Children, 2015).

Considering both the research on maternal leave and these disturbing local statistics, we at LISC support the paid family and medical leave legislation coming before the Council of the District of Columbia on December 6th.

Importantly, the proposed bill provides a 90% wage replacement for those making under $66,560. This isn’t the 100% replacement that was proposed previously, however, 90% replacement still means that many low-wage workers can now realistically consider taking advantage of family and medical leave without completely zeroing out their income to do so.

Our confidence in the design of this bill is strengthened by Chairman Mendelson’s close work with Chief Financial Officer Jeffery DeWitt and his staff to structure a broad base of beneficiaries, while limiting the payroll tax rate necessary to generate program revenue. Indeed, a recent Economic and Policy Impact Statement by the DC Council’s Office of the Budget Director finds that the proposed legislation would have a minimal impact on GDP and private sector job growth while increasing female labor force participation and decreasing infant mortality.

We also believe that this legislation makes sense for businesses looking to attract and retain productive employees. Research on maternal leave, as well as surveys on parental leave, both point to reduced turnover and the ability to use such a policy as a recruitment tool for potential employees (Department of Labor, 2015).

One concern we have is that the bill puts costs up front, requiring that an entire year go by with employers having to contribute to the fund before any benefits are realized. Putting costs ahead of the benefits exposes the policy to repeal, weakening, and/or loss of support, especially if a major economic crisis occurs before any benefits can be accessed. While this is an issue with the overall design, we don’t see a way around this. And it is important to remember: people still have children and loved ones – regardless of what is happening in our economy – and being able to care for them while still receiving a portion of a salary is a need and desire that will not fluctuate.

At LISC, we work on a daily basis to equitably and inclusively build neighborhoods of opportunity for all DC residents, regardless of income. We know that sound public policy devoted to supporting families and children is necessary for a community – and a city – to truly be a place of opportunity for all. The Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016 represents much needed legislation for the families living in the neighborhoods in which we work. As such, we urge the Council of the District of Columbia to take the first step toward a more equitable and just city by voting “Yes” on December 6th for paid family and medical leave.