Inside the Meter

We're deleting Promise No. 147

When we looked into Promise No. 147, to expand how the Family and Medical Leave Act is applied to members of the military, we were surprised to learn that the promise had been fulfilled ... by President George W. Bush. (We suspect it's because the promise was made early in the presidential campaign, in 2007.) Obama also signed additional changes into law on Oct. 28, 2009, but they were slightly outside the scope of his promise.

Obama's promise was "to expand Family Medical Leave to include reserve families facing mobilization. This will allow workers whose spouse is called to active duty to get their affairs in order, without losing their jobs."

Generally, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to have a baby; take care of a newborn; adopt a child; care for a parent, spouse or child who has a serious medical condition; or recover from the worker's own serious medical condition. Workers in businesses with at least 50 employees qualify, as long as they have worked for the employer for 12 months and worked 1,250 hours during the past year. Employees in public-sector jobs qualify as well, as long as they have worked for the employer for at least a year.

In January 2008, Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. A portion of that bill amended the original law in regard to how it can be applied to military service.

Bush's changes permitted a "spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin" to take up to 26 work weeks of unpaid but job-protected leave to care for a "member of the Armed Forces, including a member of the National Guard or Reserves, who is undergoing medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy, is otherwise in outpatient status, or is otherwise on the temporary disability retired list, for a serious injury or illness." Bush's changes also permitted an employee to take the original 12 weeks of family leave stemming from the fact that "the spouse, or a son, daughter, or parent of the employee is on active duty (or has been notified of an impending call or order to active duty) in the Armed Forces in support of a contingency operations."

Regulations by Bush's Labor Department narrowed the application of these provisions in two ways. First, the 26 weeks of leave was limited to family members of current servicemembers; family members of veterans were not included. Second, under the regulations, only family members of reservists and National Guard members could access qualifying exigency leave.

When Obama signed the 2010 version of the defense authorization bill on Oct. 28, 2009, he enacted a more inclusive policy than the Labor Department's regulations had allowed.

First, Obama extended the law's provisions to family members caring for recent veterans who are undergoing treatment for, or recuperating from, a serious injury. Second, Obama permitted family members to use the leave when an active duty member of the military is deployed -- not just when a member of the National Guard or reserves is deployed.

In addition, Obama changed the definition of a "serious injury or illness" to include one incurred prior to active duty but which was aggravated by the military deployment.

Even though both presidents played a role in expanding the law's applicability to military families, technically it was Bush who fulfilled Obama's specific promise -- to "expand Family Medical Leave to include reserve families facing mobilization" -- before Obama was even elected. So we are removing this promise from our list.