Paid family leave even at 4 weeks would 'still be transformational,' expert says

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Democrats on Capitol Hill are reducing the total price tag for their social spending plan as they work to get it across the finish line in the coming days.

One casualty is the duration of paid family leave.

President Joe Biden had proposed federal 12-week paid family and medical leave as part of his American Families Plan. However, as the package makes its way through Congress, the size of that proposal is getting scaled down.

“It is down to four weeks,” Biden said last week during a CNN Town Hall. “And the reason it's down to four weeks is I can't get 12 weeks.”

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The U.S. is currently one of the few industrialized countries that does not have a universal paid leave program. Currently, eligible workers may take unpaid time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, while it is up to businesses to offer paid leave benefits to their employees.

About a quarter of the work force does not have a single day of paid sick leave, noted Kathleen Romig, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“It's really important to understand that four weeks would still be transformational,” Romig said.

That goes particularly for low-income workers, who are less likely to have access to paid leave at work and may not have sufficient savings to enable them to take time off when they need it, she said.

Moreover, a four-week policy could be expanded at some point, Romig said.

“It's really important to lay the foundation, and this would be a good base,” Romig said. “And then the idea would be either that states could top it off or that at the federal level eventually the program could be expanded.”

Paid leave advocacy groups hope to see a permanent, rather than temporary, program in the bill.

Molly Day, executive director at Paid Leave for the United States, said in a statement that a temporary paid leave program would be “insufficient.”

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“It is imperative that the final bill meets the desperate needs of working families with a permanent federal framework,” Day said.

Dawn Huckelbridge, director at Paid Leave for All, said her organization is also working to make the case that a new paid leave policy should be permanent.

“This is an opportunity to build something that lasts,” Huckelbridge said.

Amid the ongoing pandemic and related caregiving challenges people face, a federal paid leave policy could help alleviate those burdens, she said.

“Paid leave is a job retention policy,” Huckelbridge said. “This is about keeping people in their jobs and working.”

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