President Barack Obama on Thursday will order federal agencies to provide at least six weeks of paid parental leave to employees and call on cities, states and Congress to provide similar leave to millions of other working Americans.
Obama also will call on the new Republican-led Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would allow millions of Americans to earn up to seven days a year of paid sick time.
The bill, first introduced in 2009, languished even under a Democratic-controlled Congress.
Politifact in 2011 rated Obama’s promise to require that employers provide seven paid sick days per year as a promise broken and noted that if the Healthy Families Act couldn’t “come to vote during the previous session of Congress, when Democrats held strong majorities in both chambers of Congress, it’s even more unlikely to pass through the currently Republican-controlled House of Representatives.”
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White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, who announced Obama’s moves on the employment website, Linked In, said the issue is getting a spotlight as more cities and states, including Massachusetts, enact more generous workplace leave.
“We have a new Congress in place, that creates a terrific opportunity for us to work on a bipartisan basis,” Jarrett said. “I don’t think you should assume because it didn’t get traction before, that it won’t get traction now.”
Obama has backed legislation in the past for paid leave for federal workers, said Betsy Stevenson, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, but is introducing his own initiative. She put the price tag for providing paid leave to federal workers when a child arrives at $250 million for the first year.
Obama will also call on state and cities to pass laws to create paid leave programs. He will propose spending $2.2 billion in his upcoming 2016 budget to reimburse up to 5 states for three years of the administrative costs and half the costs of the benefits. His budget will also include $35 million in competitive grants to help states start programs and $1 million in new grants through the Department of Labor for states to conduct feasibility studies of such efforts.
The White House did not say how states would make up the rest of the cost. It also did not say why Obama did not mnove to extend paid leave to federal employees before.
Obama aides estimate some 43 million private sector workers in the U.S. are without any form of paid sick leave and only three states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — offer paid family and medical leave.
In the majority of households with children, each adult is working, but “too many of our workplaces have failed to keep pace,” Jarrett said.
She said in her blog piece that Obama recently heard from a mother of two in Maryland who was working full-time while raising a family and hoped her daughters “don’t have to choose between caring for their sick child or dying parent, and their job.”
She said studies indicate that family leave “fosters a more stable and productive workplace. If our U.S. employers are going to be globally competitive, they need to be able to attract the best and the brightest” and that family-friendly policies will be critical.
Stevenson said a number of recent studies show flexibility work policies can boost the overall economy by improving productivity and reducing turnover.
She said surveys of employers in states and cities that had implemented family leave policies reported few negative effects.
“Businesses are learning that generous paid maternity leave policies are benefits that workers want, and that they’re increasingly voting with their feet to get,” she said, citing Google, Yahoo and DeLoitte as among those expanding maternity and paternity leave programs.