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By David G. Taylor October 25, 2011

Congress isn't going for family leave funding

President Barack Obama entered office with plans to expand workers' rights and benefits. Obama promised that his administration would urge all states to adopt paid family and medical leave programs. Any initial costs that states would incur by adopting this policy would be offset by $1.5 billion in federal funds.

No such paid leave requirement exists on a national level. The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 only guarantees American workers unpaid medical leave. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., proposed the the Family Income to Respond to Significant Transitions Act in 2009. This bill would have fulfilled President Obama's promise by establishing $1.5 billion for states to use to set up paid family leave programs. The bill subsequently stalled in the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections and expired.

President Obama proposed $50 million in his proposed FY 2011 budget for the State Paid Leave Fund. This amount, however, did not make it into the final FY 2011 budget that Congress passed in April 2011. The administration also proposed $23 million in its FY 2012 proposal. It is unlikely this funding will end up in the final bill given the Republican-controlled House of Representative's resistance to President Obama's proposals and its advocacy of spending cuts.
The $23 million does not appear in Rep. Denny Rehlberg, R-Mont., draft of the FY 2012 budget. Rep. Rehlberg is the chairman of Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, which is a part of the House Committee on Appropriations.

The Obama administration has clearly taken some action through its budget proposals to boost state adoption of paid medical leave, but it is dramatically short of the $1.5 billion goal.  And given the administration's failure in getting its budgetary proposals adopted, and the low probability that supportive legislation will pass through Congress, we rate Obama's promise as Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 4, 2009

Bill would offer funding for states that promote paid family and medical leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act provides unpaid leave for employees to have a baby, take care of a newborn, adopt a child, care for an ill family member or to recover from a serious health condition. But President Barack Obama has promised to encourage states that want to initiate programs under FMLA for paid, rather than just unpaid, leave.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., has introduced the Family Income to Respond to Significant Transitions, or FIRST, Act. The measure would provide up to $1.5 billion in grants to states that want to pursue paid family and medical leave programs. States could receive money from this fund if they offered at least six weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child. States could receive additional funding if they allowed paid leave for other reasons.

The bill, introduced May 7, 2009, mirrors the president's promise closely. It has attracted 23 co-sponsors and has had one hearing at a House subcommittee.

Still, the bill has attracted just a small fraction of the 113 co-sponsors who signed on to the Healthy Families Act, a higher-profile bill that addresses a related workplace issue, guaranteed sick days. The bill could also attract the opposition of business groups, who argue that the Healthy Families Act could harm small businesses that are already struggling in the current recession, as well as the opposition of fiscal conservatives, who are in no mood to support further federal spending. In addition, there is no Senate version yet. Finally, given the crowded congressional agenda, it's not clear when the measure will be taken up.

So the odds look long for passage in the near future — but the odds are somewhat better for a different bill that would advance paid parental leave.

The Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act won passage in the House on June 4, 2009, by a 258-154 vote. The bill would provide federal workers with four weeks of paid leave under the FMLA for the birth or adoption of a child.

Many Republicans argued against the bill, saying that federal workers already get better vacation benefits than private-sector workers and noting that the Congressional Budget Office said the bill would cost $938 million between 2010 and 2014.

A companion bill in the Senate is set for a hearing this month.

All of this is enough for us to rate it In the Works.

Our Sources

THOMAS, bill information page on the Family Income to Respond to Significant Transitions Act, accessed Nov. 3, 2009
National Partnership for Women and Families, legislative agenda for the 111th Congress, Aug 7, 2009 (provided by the group)

Congressional Quarterly, " House Votes to Expand Leave for Federal Workers ," June 8, 2009

E-mail interview with Sharyn Tejani, senior policy council for the National Partnership for Women and Families, Nov. 3, 2009

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