A new bill introduced in the D.C. Council on Tuesday would make the District the first U.S. city to fund paid family and medical leave for nearly all its residents. It would mark a victory for the Obama administration, too—D.C. received a $96,000 grant from the Labor Department to help construct the plan, which stands to provide footing for future U.S. family-leave policies.
If the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 passes, all full- and part-time workers who live in D.C. will be eligible for 16 weeks of paid leave for personal illness, to care for a sick family member, or to be with a new biological or adopted child. The funding pool will come from a new tax on private D.C. employers, which will pay between 0.6 and 1 percent of their employees’ salaries, on a progressive sliding scale. Employees who make up to $52,000 a year will continue to receive their entire salary during their leave; others will make $1,000 per week of leave plus half of their salary in excess of $52,000, up to $3,000 per week. The District can’t compel its largest employer, the federal government, to participate, but D.C.-residing federal employees and self-employed workers, plus District residents who work outside the city, can opt in with a contribution that will not exceed 1 percent of their salaries.
The legislation, which is likely to pass, was introduced by Councilmembers David Grosso and Elissa Silverman, who’d worked to raise D.C.’s minimum wage and get more paid sick days for restaurant workers before taking office in January. “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,” Silverman told the Washington Post. The District used its grant to hire the Institute for Women’s Policy Research as a co-architect of the plan, the first major bill to come of the Labor Department’s efforts to push workers’ issues forward despite an unfriendly Republican-controlled Congress. Those grants will eventually total $2 million, levied in support of new family-leave laws in a dozen other states and municipalities.
Currently, only Rhode Island, New Jersey, and California guarantee any family leave for working residents. Rhode Island offers four weeks of partial pay, and New Jersey and California offer six, making the proposed D.C. plan a giant step toward the policies already enacted by some private employers—like the Gates Foundation, which just announced that it will offer a full year of paid leave—and nearly every other country in the world. A citywide leave pool means that entrepreneurs can start businesses without losing the ability to provide for themselves in a time of need, and workers can take jobs at small businesses that can’t afford to pay for leave on their own.
“This bill is fundamentally about D.C. families needing the time and resources to care,” said Joanna Blotner of Jews United for Justice’s Paid Family Leave Campaign, in a statement. “I had to leave my own father paralyzed in a hospital bed because that's what my work and finances demanded.” D.C. may be the example the country needs to finally address one of the biggest conflicts between work and family life.