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Subcommittee Hears Views on Paid Parental Leave for Federal Employees

On March 6, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia held a hearing, “Investing in the Future of the Federal Workforce: Paid Parental Leave Improves Recruitment and Retention.” The hearing focused, in part, on a bill (H.R. 3799), sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2007, which would provide all federal employees eight weeks of full pay and benefits for leave taken for the birth or adoption of a child. During the hearing, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) clarified that the bill’s provisions would not apply to congressional offices.

Chair Danny Davis (D-IL) said, “The United States is far behind the world in offering paid leave for parents: 168 countries offer guaranteed paid leave to women in connection with childbirth; 98 of these countries offer 14 or more weeks paid leave. The United States guarantees no paid leave for mothers in any segment of the work force. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) [P.L. 103-3], enacted in 1993, added 12 weeks of job-protected leave for the birth or adoption…[but] many employees have been unable to take time off to care for a new child or a seriously ill loved one because they cannot afford the lost pay.” He said he plans to offer an amendment during the mark-up of H.R. 3799 that would require the Government Accountability Office to study the feasibility of a disability insurance benefit for federal employees that would permit paid time off for federal employees caring for a spouse, child or parent, or an employee who has a serious health condition.

Ranking Member Kenny Marchant (R-TX) said, “It’s important to make sure federal jobs are as competitive and appealing as possible but, as good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, we have to be strategic in the way we choose to improve the federal workspace. It should also be pointed out that we need to understand the stress such an expansion of benefits places on the employees required to fill in while fathers and mothers take this needed leave. It’s important that we make choices here that balance the family’s needs with the needs of the government and understand the direct and indirect costs involved before we proceed with such a plan. Hopefully we can find a way to satisfy all these varied interests in one legislative vehicle.”

Nancy Kichak, associate director for strategic human resources policy at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), said, “While we recognize that many employees cannot afford to take several weeks of unpaid leave when they become parents, the FMLA provisions, combined with other leave benefits for federal employees, compare favorably to similar benefits offered by other employers. They provide income support that we believe is sufficient to meet the needs of most federal employees with children.” She mentioned that the government allows unlimited accumulation of sick leave and lets employees take up to 12 weeks of accrued sick leave a year to care for a family member with a serious health condition. However, she said there was a “missing piece:” the lack of “income support for employees who experience short-term disability, including as a result of childbirth, early in their careers, before they have been able to accumulate sufficient sick and annual leave to meet their needs.” OPM is proposing a short-term disability insurance program for federal employees, which would allow them to buy coverage for “affordable premiums.”

Sharyn Tejani, senior counsel with the National Partnership for Women & Families, testified, “Although we are only a midsize employer, we provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave…a year at 70 percent of an employee’s salary. We do this for several reasons. First, as an organization advocating for women and their families, we know that this paid leave is important and the right thing to do. Second, we know that providing paid family and medical leave improves our ability to compete for the type of skilled and dedicated workers we need and it helps us keep them. In the end, the cost of replacing a worker is higher than the cost of providing paid leave, and it makes a huge difference in employee morale which is priceless.”

She continued, “Another critically important aspect of [H.R. 3799] is that it provides eight weeks of leave for women and men. Parity in maternity and paternity leave is exceptionally important and is a bedrock principle that has helped make the FMLA a success. Benefits that favor women over men can reinforce stereotypes regarding the proper role of women as caretakers, not as workers. Providing parity in benefits breaks down these stereotypes and increases the ability of men to participate fully in their families’ lives.”

Vicky Lovell, director of employment and work/life programs at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, spoke about the experiences of the five states, California, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Hawaii, that require employers to have workers participate in short-term disability insurance (SDI) programs, which replace 50 to 67 percent of a worker’s typical weekly earnings. “SDI offers a model for insuring workers against wage loss when they must care for seriously ill family members…A comprehensive paid family leave insurance program was accomplished in California in 2002.” She continued, “Women’s claims for bonding with a new child make up 69 percent of total family care claims. Men’s bonding claims are another 18 percent. Claims to care for seriously ill family members are a minor share of claims under this program.” Ms. Lovell explained that the benefits of paid leave policies include women working later into their pregnancies than women with just unpaid leave; retaining workers, which saves on the cost of training new workers; and increased work productivity.

Also testifying were Daniel Beard, chief administrative officer of the U.S. House of Representatives; Dr. Jane Waldfogel, professor of social work at Columbia University; Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union; Mary Jean Burke, first executive vice-president of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO; and Amy Costantino, a federal employee.

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