A paid family leave policy could be coming to the U.S. Here’s what it would look like

Personal finance

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Legislation moving through Congress would make 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave available to most workers, and remove the U.S. from the small list of countries that are currently without such a policy.

The exact details of the plan could still change, but experts say the historic public health crisis from which we’re slowly emerging has pushed the debate on the need for a federal paid leave policy over the edge.

While about 180 countries guarantee workers paid sick leave, the U.S. remains one of just 11 countries that doesn’t, according to the World Policy Center. Even this policy would leave the U.S. behind: In Japan and Norway, for example, new parents are entitled to over 52 weeks of compensated time off.

Research finds numerous benefits to paid leave policies, including less risk that sick workers show up to their jobs while contagious and better health outcomes for mothers and their babies.

Here’s what we know so far about the policy in the works.

What are the details?

This policy, which would likely be administered by the U.S. Treasury Department or the Social Security Administration, would make it so that nearly all workers qualify for paid leave, as long as they’ve earned some wages in the last six months, said Kathleen Romig, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The typical worker could get two-thirds of their wages replaced for up to 12 weeks each year, or for a cap of $4,000 a month. The lowest-paid workers would see about 80% of their income continued during the time off. Part-time and self-employed people should qualify too.

“Individuals would also be able to receive partial wages for three days of bereavement leave,” said Michelle McGrain, director of congressional relations and economic justice at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

When would it begin?

The plan would be implemented within two years, by June 2023.

“It’s a very ambitious timeline,” Romig said.

For what purposes could I take the time off?

Working people could tap the benefit to care for a new child, to recover from a serious illness, to tend to a sick family member or for certain military deployment reasons, said Ruth Martin, senior vice president at nonprofit advocacy group MomsRising.

“It’s definition of ‘family’ is inclusive and reflects the reality of life in the U.S. today,” Martin said.

What if I already get paid leave?

Nine states, and D.C., have passed paid leave legislation: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington State. And some states currently guarantee their workers a certain number of paid sick days.

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Meanwhile, about 25% of companies have a paid parental leave policy in place.

These existing private and state benefits may remain, so long as their terms are equally as generous or more generous as the federal policy, experts say.

Many businesses will likely offer more paid time off as a recruitment and retention tool.

What would the policy cost and who would pay for it?

The most recent plan doesn’t have a cost estimate yet, however a similar proposal from the White House put the price tag at around $225 billion over a decade. It would be paid for by the federal government from tax revenue generated by higher levies on the wealthy.

What are the chances this becomes a reality?

Pretty high, experts say.

“With the widespread impacts of Covid-19 on health, employment and caregiving very much in the public’s mind, I think a paid family leave policy, probably as part of a broader package, stands a good chance at adoption,” said Widener University professor Linda Houser.

Democrats also plan to try to pass the legislation through the reconciliation process, which means they won’t need any Republican support.

The vast majority of American voters — around 80% — are in favor of a national paid leave program.

Do U.S. workers who get sick or have a baby have any rights now?

Some do.

Currently, companies with 50 employees or more are required to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off, thanks to The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

But even that law covers only 56% of the workforce, McGrain said.

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