Updates to D.C. Paid Family Leave: Changes to the Bill, the Community Hearing and the Mayor’s Budget

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 6: Tanya Snyder holding Milo Evans-Snyder, 5 months old, left, Jessica Champagne holding Benjamin Roth-Champagne, 3 moths old, center, and Jamie Davis Smith holding Adam Smith, 10 months old, right, stand in the hallway after dozens of parents with toddlers and people sat through a DC Council hearing to show support for a paid family leave bill at the John A. Wilson Building in Washington, DC on Tuesday, October 06, 2015. DC council members introduced a paid family leave bill that would create the most progressive system in the country and serve as a model for other cities that might be interested in paid leave. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Changes to the Bill, the Community Hearing and the Mayor’s Budget

A great deal has happened since my January 2016 article on Paid Family Leave, including the Community Hearing at the D.C. Council. Here are the updates on D.C.’s Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 and what you need to know moving forward.

Changes to the Bill & the Community Hearing

Just days before the Community Hearing on February 11, the D.C. Council released a new draft of our bill that cut out major provisions and weakened our policy. I would be lying if I said the news wasn’t devastating. We were only two days out from the hearing, after all – very little time to react and respond. As the new draft now stands, the number of weeks of paid leave has decreased from 16 to 12 weeks, D.C. residents who work outside the city or for the Federal or D.C. government are no longer covered, the progressive wage replacement rate is down to 90% of wages from 100% (for the most struggling families, and even for lower middle class families), and mental health and many other medical challenges were excluded. Most bizarrely, the definition of “family” was redefined to only include dependents – excluding parents, siblings, adult children, and certainly aunts, uncles, grandparents, or grandchildren. These reversals are unacceptable, and we quickly pivoted to strategizing about how to make sure the Council and Mayor know that we will not accept a weak policy that excludes so many of our families and the real situations we face.

In my testimony I reminded the Council about the number of routine health assessments for a newborn and mother in the first 16 weeks postpartum—eight in total! I shared with them that it was a challenge for me to make it to all of those back-to-back appointments, and I wasn’t even working at the time. For families who can’t afford to take time off from work, these appointments just don’t happen, and a vital window for pediatricians to monitor the health and development of newborns and administer life-saving vaccines is lost.

The Council Members were particularly interested in hearing from business owners – 2/3 of whom were testifying in support of our bill. Could their business afford it? What are their current policies and practices when an employee needs time off? What are the real costs of turnover and new hiring when you lose an employee to life challenges? For an example of a business owner’s support of Paid Family Leave, check out Tom Spiggle’s Open Letter to the D.C. Council in the Huffington Post.

I encourage you to watch the testimonies here – maybe even all twelve hours of it! By watching you will bear witness to the struggles and joys of my neighbors and friends. They are formidable testaments to the importance of Paid Family Leave.

The D.C. Budget and Mayor Bowser

As paid leave policies are slowly gaining traction across the U.S., our local campaign is facing another major hurdle – D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. She and her administration have voiced only lukewarm support for paid family leave. Recently, the Mayor released her budget for the upcoming fiscal year. We were very disappointed that the Mayor did not allocate any startup administrative funding to get the new paid leave fund up and running. Paid Leave supporters packed the District’s three budget engagement forums in February, letting the Mayor know how important this issue is for D.C. families and workers. We’d like to be able to depend on strong Mayoral support in a city where 82% of its residents support the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015. Unsurprisingly, those who are resistant to a paid leave program in D.C. are business owners and corporate lobbyists, who have the attention of some of our elected leaders.

Furthermore, during her State of the District Address in late March, Mayor Bowser called for the creation of a task force to study a paid family leave program for the District. This is a stalling tactic. The Mayor wants this task force to study the issue for six months before releasing recommendations. But Mayor Bowser, the D.C. Council has already acted as a task force on this issue. It has held not one, not two, but three hearings – two from professionals and experts in the field, the third from the community. The Council has already weighed its merits and made plenty of recommendations that this bill should move forward. While we admire your bold proposals for minimum wage increases and affordable housing, your constituents have made it loud and clear that paid leave is an equally important issue.

Putting families first starts at home, right here in our city. And, with D.C. elections coming up, this is a key time when our elected leaders are listening to our priorities. Make sure that they know where you stand and what it will take to earn your vote.

I encourage you to call and write to Mayor Bowser and to your Council Members on this issue. For Council Members Grosso, Siverman, Nadeau, and Allen, thank them for being champions on the bill. For the rest, tell them to pass this bill and explain why it is so important to you and your family. Most are on the fence, and a little persuasion can go a long way. Stay tuned for more updates.

 

Kristin Garrity Sekerci is a volunteer leader with the Paid Family Leave Campaign in D.C. Please visit dcpaidfamilyleave.org to get more involved or contact the author by email at kristin.g.sekerci@gmail.com.

Photo: Getty Images

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