The D.C. City Council approved a sweeping paid leave plan Tuesday to give private sector workers in the District some of America’s most generous family and sick leave benefits, The Washington Post reports. The plan gives eight weeks paid time off for new parents, six weeks off for those caring for sick family members and two weeks of personal sick time.
More than two dozen other U.S. cities have paid medical leave, including Chicago and New York. In April, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require business to provide fully paid leave for new parents.
A new city office will have to be set up to administer the benefits, and a new 0.62 percent payroll tax on employers is expected to generate $250 million a year for the program.
The city’s business community and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser vocally opposed the tax, and launched a last-minute lobbying campaign to try to stop the bill from passing. Business leaders say they are unable to absorb an additional tax, and that the city should instead mandate paid leave and let businesses figure out how to pay for it.
In a statement issued after the vote, Bowser also criticized the tax for largely benefiting residents of Maryland and Virginia, as many city workers live outside D.C. “It is wrong to raise District taxes to fund a costly, new government program that sends 66 percent of the benefits outside of the city, and leaves District families behind,” the mayor wrote. “If the council wants to raise $250 million in new taxes, shouldn’t the focus be on District residents and their needs?”
Supporters of the bill, including Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, say that the across-the-board tax is the only way to ensure that small businesses can offer paid time off comparable to that offered by bigger employers, and that paid leave has been shown to boost employee productivity and morale. The Economic Policy Institute released this statement Tuesday in support of the paid leave bill, and urged the mayor to sign it:
Paid family leave is an important component of family economic security, allowing workers to care for themselves and their families when they have a new child or when an illness strikes. Unfortunately, today, millions of families lack such protection. Only 13 percent of private-sector workers have access to paid family leave, and the incidence of that valuable safety net is far more likely among the well off than those with less. Only 4 percent of the lowest wage workers have paid family leave compared to 24 percent of the highest paid workers. Without federal action, it’s incumbent on cities and states to provide the safety net many working families need.
Although the bill passed by a veto-proof margin of 9 to 4, allowing it to become law without Bowser’s signature, it would be difficult to make a successful go without her support — or at least cooperation. She’ll be tasked with getting it off the ground, and the city will have to set aside $40 million next year to begin setting up a technology system to administer the new benefits.
The benefits, which do not apply to federal workers or District government employees, could be offered beginning in 2019.
Kelsey E. Thomas is a writer and editor based in the most upper-left corner of the country. She writes about urban policy, equitable development and the outdoors (but also about nearly everything else) with a focus on solutions-oriented journalism. She is a former associate editor and current contributing editor at Next City.