Government employees will receive paid parental leave under new bill
The U.S., one of few countries that don’t mandate paid family leave, will guarantee 2.1 million federal workers paid time off to care for newborns under a tentative provision in defense legislation. That would still leave the majority of the U.S. workforce with no paid time off when they have children.
The bill, expected to go to a vote this week, will provide 12 weeks paid parental leave to federal workers who’ve been with the government at least a year.
“This is a huge first step, and a huge victory, for our nation’s public servants,” said Michelle McGrain, federal affairs manager at the National Partnership for Women & Families.
Currently, federal employees have no access to paid family or medical leave, McGrain said, and often must use paid sick days and paid vacation time to cover the time following the birth, adoption or fostering of a child.
“This is going to be a really critical benefit,” McGrain said.
Senator Chuck Schumer said the legislation makes the U.S. government a “pacesetter” for corporate America. Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser to the White House, said in a statement that the new policy is a “huge step forward towards making paid leave a reality for all Americans.”
The paid-leave provision will be included in the National Defense Authorization Act as part of a deal in which Democrats agreed to authorize the Space Force, President Donald Trump’s proposed 6th branch of the military. The bill is H.R. 2500 in the House and S. 1790 in the Senate.
It’s unclear what the new paid-leave program would cost.
Advocates for paid family leave are cautiously hopeful the legislation will beget more coverage for more Americans in the private sector.
“I think it shows the momentum and increasingly bipartisan support for the issue,” said Meshal Desantis, press secretary for PL+US, a paid leave advocacy group. “If legislators think these benefits are good for the federal workforce, then all workers should have them as well.”
With a majority of Americans supporting paid leave for new parents, there’s a growing consensus among both Democratic and Republican lawmakers that the U.S. should have a law on the books. But there’s little agreement between the two parties on what that would look like. The main point of contention is how to pay for it.
This year, Republicans introduced multiple bills in the House and the Senate that would allow people to dip into Social Security to fund time off when they have kids. These bills cover new parents but don’t offer time off to others who might need family medical leave.
Democrats, who first proposed legislation in 2013, want to start a fund paid for by employee and employer contributions totaling 0.4% of a worker’s wages. That bill now has bipartisan support in the House.
So far, the march for paid family leave in the U.S. has been slow. More companies than ever, including the country’s largest employers, offer paid time off to workers, and six states have paid leave laws on the books. Still, that leaves 83% of the U.S. workforce with no coverage, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The defense legislation would expand paid leave to about 1% of workers.
“This is tangible progress for one big segment of the workforce,” said Wendy Chun-Hoon, the co-director of Family Values at Work, a paid leave advocacy group. “We still need a comprehensive solution that works for everyone.”