Biden pushes for paid family leave in State of the Union address

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President Joe Biden called for passing a new federal paid family and medical leave policy in his State of the Union Address Tuesday night.

However, the timing of when such a law could be put in place is still up in the air.

The policy is part of Democrats’ sweeping social spending plan, Build Back Better, that has stalled on Capitol Hill. The party had aimed to pass the legislation through a simple majority. But opposition from some leaders, particularly Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has dimmed its prospects.

If paid family and medical leave were to go forward, it would bring the U.S. in line with most other developed nations that already have paid leave policies.

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The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allowed workers to take unpaid time off.

Nine states and Washington, D.C., have enacted their own paid family and medical leave laws, up from four states in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

While some workers may be able to use these benefits, many are not. Currently, 79% of workers do not have access to a defined paid family leave or caregiving benefit, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. Moreover, 60% do not have medical leave.

The Covid-19 pandemic helped invigorate interest in a national paid leave program. In 2020, a temporary program was created that expanded access to paid sick and caregiving days for Covid-related reasons.

Those measures have expired, and 8.8 million workers missed work in early January due to pandemic-related reasons, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Efforts to include paid family leave in the Democrats’ social spending plan have not always been smooth.

The paid leave plan was cut to four weeks from the original 12 weeks last year, after it briefly fell out of the proposal altogether.

Meanwhile, the cost of the plan has still been a concern cited by lawmakers like Manchin. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office indicate the paid leave measure would cost around $205 billion over 10 years.

Still, some Democratic leaders and advocates were quick to praise Biden’s inclusion of the plan in his State of the Union speech.

“From strengthening our supply chains to achieving universal paid family and medical leave, the Ways and Means Committee will keep pushing to support workers and supercharge our ongoing economic rebound,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, a Democrat representing Massachusetts, said in a statement.

“The administration knows that a national paid leave policy and a care infrastructure will yield millions of jobs, billions in wages and trillions in GDP, and will help every working family in this country,” said Paid Leave for All, a national campaign of organizations fighting for paid family and medical leave, in a statement.

Sophie Tremblay

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