By Nat Baldino
After decades of support from grassroots coalitions and forward-thinking lawmakers, the sense of urgency for a federal paid vacation program is stronger than ever. In April, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal (D-MA), unveiled a draft discussion, the law on building an economy for families, which offers time off family and medical expenses paid for all workers. Days later, the Biden-Harris administration included a comprehensive national paid vacation program in the U.S. plan for families. In May, Republicans at House Ways and Means responded with their own proposal. With several plans on the table, advocates must push for a political solution that helps workers who need it most.
Without a doubt, the pandemic has brought to light just how desperately needed paid time off is. Women lost 5.1 million jobs during the pandemic and 2.3 million women have completely left the workforce. These numbers disproportionately include women and women of color, who are more likely to be the primary or sole breadwinner in their families. Women of color are also the most likely to be pushed into industries that pay low wages and lack benefits. Paid time off would have enabled more women, like the 154,000 black women who left the workforce during the pandemic, to keep their jobs, rather than choosing between looking after their health and earning a salary.
Fortunately, proposals like Neal’s build on the knowledge longtime advocates of paid vacation have accumulated over many decades. Neal’s proposal builds on the FAMILY Act of Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Until these new measures, this was the only comprehensive proposal for paid leave at the federal level. The champions of paid leave have long advocated for a federal program like the Family Act that is universal, comprehensive and progressive. As paid vacation finally gets the attention it deserves, it’s critical to remember the lessons we’ve learned from family law and the nine states and Washington, DC that have adopted their own paid vacation programs. Policymakers today need to ensure that paid leave includes all workers and families, provides sufficient wage replacement and protects employment to ensure the health and safety of all workers. working families.
Neal’s proposal is inspired by the FAMILY Act. It offers 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave with full coverage that allows workers to take time off to care for a spouse, child, parent or self in the event of serious illness, as well as than to welcome a new child. These permitted uses for leave were standardized under the Family and Medical Leave Act 1993 (FMLA). Neal’s plan is universal: While many state paid vacation plans exclude concert workers or public sector workers, Neal’s plan includes all workers, regardless of the size of the employer, seniority or self-employment. It is also universal in its definition of family, allowing bloodless, non-marital relationships to count as family.
Additionally, Neal’s proposal builds on lessons learned about wage replacement since the introduction of the Family Law. His plan creates a tiered system, in which the lowest paid workers receive a larger portion of their wages (85%), while reducing the rate to the highest paid workers, who will receive between 5 and 75% of their salary. salary. Without full wage replacement, workers suffer an untenable wage cut if they use the benefit. So, especially for low-wage workers, a plan that replaces their wages as much as possible is essential.
The components of the Neal and Biden-Harris plans are the scaffolding that a fair paid vacation program must contain. Republicans have come up with alternatives that use tax credits and savings accounts, options that keep paid leave inaccessible to low-wage workers.
For example, Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) and Republican Ways and Means Committee Leader Kevin Brady (R-TX) proposed the Workers’ Paycheck Protection and Family Choice Act, which allows workers to contribute to a savings account that can be used to pay for medical and childcare expenses. The scheme also allows private sector workers to choose to accumulate time off instead of overtime. Both of these proposals are woefully inadequate, especially for low-wage workers.
It is for this very reason that policymakers must create a universal and standardized paid vacation program. The Republican proposal consists of measures that many high-income workers already have. Low-wage workers are excluded from the Republican regime because they are either paid too little to save money or have employers who do not pay benefits. A paid vacation program that excludes workers who need it most is not true paid vacation.
Working families need an accessible, comprehensive, progressive and protected paid vacation program for employment. When nearly 40% of Americans say they don’t have enough money to cover a $ 400 emergency expense, the Biden-Harris Plan and the Neal Proposal are welcome steps toward a future that puts them first. By creating a paid family and medical leave program that is affordable and accessible to all workers, Congress has the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to working families.