On Oct. 10, the D.C. Council is set to revisit the issue of Paid Family Leave, just 7 months after the Universal Paid Family Leave Act (UPFLA) became law in the District. Potentially replacing a greatly needed program before it has even had a chance to go fully into effect undermines trust between residents and the Council, and places the paid family leave protections in place at risk of being rolled back.
As a former elected official, I understand the importance of keeping voters’ trust. Political accountability is one of the most important aspects of public service, and it has taken on new importance in the age of Trump. Residents trust us to make the hard decisions for the sake of bettering their lives. We cannot betray them by backtracking on universal paid family leave. Make no mistake, forcing the debate back open threatens the program in its entirety.
D.C. Working Families and the D.C. Paid Family Leave Coalition spent over a year advocating, fighting and ultimately accepting compromises demanded by the industry lobbyists to pass a comprehensive universal paid family leave proposal alongside Councilmembers Grosso and Silverman. Our goal was to create a holistic plan that is inclusive of working families, caretakers and businesses alike. Unfortunately, even after making concessions demanded by corporate lobbyists before we passed the program, big business is back again demanding we give up even more.
Using a social insurance model, the current D.C. Paid Family Leave plan follows that all D.C. residents share the costs of the program and receive the benefits. This model is preferable to a private employer mandated model because employers and private insurance companies, who prioritize cutting costs, will deny leave benefits because they must pay leave benefits in full any time an employee takes leave. Privatized programs are also more likely to discriminate against workers they think would be most likely to take leave, i.e. women of childbearing age and low wage workers.
In contract, D.C.’s paid leave plan focuses incentives on expanding paid leave access and covers all residents, including part-time, tipped and self-employed workers. The benefit honors up to six weeks of leave to support a loved one, two weeks of paid leave for personal health and 8 weeks of paid parental leave open to foster adoptive or birth parents.
It is insulting to perpetuate the idea that the universal paid leave act is somehow too generous. Paid leave benefits actually provide less time off in comparison to other states across the nation. What the act does provide is up to 90 percent wage replacement for people who earn the least. Though all D.C. wards will benefit from universal paid leave, residents from wards 7 and 8 will see the highest rate of wage replacement compared to elsewhere in the District. Ward 7 residents earning the median income of $615 a week will see a weekly benefit of $553 while ward 8 residents making $529 weekly will see a weekly benefit of $476, both recieving a wage replacement rate of 90%. These benefits of the UPFLA are critical to improving racial equity and combat economic inequality for our residents.
Alternate paid family leave proposals in the council would require larger employers to give paid leave directly to their employees, while smaller businesses would be provided with some degree of support from the government. This corporate control mandate model places complete control of paid leave into the hands of profit-driven managers and big businesses, and would incentivize bosses to discriminate, deny leave, and retaliate against people who use their benefits.
No one should have to choose between a job or caring for a sick child or loved one. This fall the D.C. council has an opportunity to keep the promise they made to residents by upholding and enforcing the universal paid family leave law. It is time the council pivot to other pressing matters facing the District and clear the way for paid leave to go into effect.
Valerie Ervin is a senior adviser for the Working Families Party in the D.C. and Maryland metropolitan areas. She is also a former elected official on the Montgomery County Council.