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DC Could Have the Most Generous Paid Family Leave in the Country

Photograph by Twenty20

Washington D.C. is likely to soon have the most generous paid family leave access, after Mayor Muriel Bowser reluctantly chose not to veto a bill that would result in a paid family leave law offering benefits that surpass any other paid family leave benefits in the country.

Although Bowser did not veto the law, she didn't sign it either. That means that if Congress (which gets 30 days to review all legislation in the capital) does not block the family leave law, then it will become a law without the mayor's endorsement. The bill is expected to make it past Congress, as it does have bipartisan support.

“While the legislation will advance without my signature, my administration will look to our partners on the council to provide ways to overcome the very significant deficiencies,” Bowser wrote in a letter to the city council. “The council must fund and refine the legislation before any significant outlays of resources can be made.”

The “deficiencies” she mentions are in reference to a very slight—0.62 percent—increase in payroll taxes for businesses and that it will cover people who live in Maryland or Virginia, but work in D.C.

If passed, the law will go into effect in 2020. Qualifying employees will be able to earn up to 90 percent of their salary when they go on leave, with a cap being set at $1,000 per week. The duration of the paid leave depends on the circumstances, too; eight weeks for a new child, six weeks to take care of a sick relative, and two weeks for personal illness.

Only about 12 percent of Americans had access to paid family leave in 2013, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Everyone else can pretty much just expect 12 weeks of time off without pay. For those who already struggle to get by financially, going without pay for even a week isn’t an option.

Companies such as Starbucks, Netflix, Facebook, Google, Twitter, EY, Etsy, Adobe, Ikea, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft and others already offer employees anywhere between six and 26 weeks of paid family leave, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation generously offers up to one year of paid leave to new parents after the birth or adoption of a child. More companies are also adding paternity leave benefits and extending existing maternity leave regulations. And although more companies are beginning to offer paid family leave as a standard benefit, businesses haven't yet come close to reaching a tipping point where more companies offer paid family leave than not.

Some states have taken it into their own hands to sign legislation to offer paid family leave to state government employees, such as California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York (which goes into effect in 2018) and, most recently, Arkansas. But there are still many parents across the U.S. without access to paid family leave, or paid maternity leave at all, which makes it so difficult to be financially secure and have a family, too.

It’s hard to understand why paid family leave is so hard to come by in the U.S., when almost every other country offers at least some kind of paid maternity leave—and the majority of developed countries offer it to fathers, as well.

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