The Obama administration’s latest round of grants to states and localities to study paid leave builds on existing momentum for corresponding federal policy, according to a leading workplace advocate.
In an effort to study the impact of enacting paid family and medical leave programs, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will divide $1.1 million in federal funds between Denver, Colorado; Hawaii; Indiana; Franklin County, Ohio; Pennsylvania; and Madison, Wisconsin.
Comparable DOL grants awarded to other areas across the United States since 2014 have determined that “paid leave is not nearly as expensive as most people would like to espouse,” Sarah Fleisch Fink, director of policy and senior counsel for workplace at the National Partnership for Women and Families, told Rewire in an interview.
Studying paid leave enables lawmakers and advocates to obtain “critical information” about how much a program would cost and which agency should administer it, Fleisch Fink said. Such considerations differ from state to state and locality to locality.
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Fleisch Fink said that DOL paid leave grants have also contributed to assessing another cost: inaction. And they have increased education and awareness about how to access benefits in places where they do exist, she added.
For some prior recipients of DOL grants, the findings are convincing enough to get lawmakers in their jurisdictions on board with paid leave. Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, two of the recipients of the agency’s 2014 round of grants, subsequently advanced paid leave bills, though they remain pending in the state legislature and city council, respectively.
Steps forward like these are enough to give advocates like Fleisch Fink hope at a time when decades-old federal policy, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, only guarantees unpaid leave and excludes 40 percent of the workforce.
In the U.S. Congress, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are the lead sponsors behind the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act (HR 1439, S 786), which would create a national insurance program guaranteeing all workers receive paid family and medical leave. As with a prior version they introduced in 2013, the FAMILY Act would provide all workers—regardless of company size and including part-time, lower-wage, and self-employed workers—two-thirds of their income for up to 12 weeks in the event of serious illness, after childbirth, or to care for a seriously ill relative.
Although the current Republican majority in Congress typically opposes paid leave, state-level progress and public support left Fleisch Fink optimistic for federal action.
“We feel like we’re at a pivotal moment,” she said.