On Tuesday, May 18, 2021, the Senate HELP Committee focused on proposals for expanded Family and Medical Leave and comments and statements by members showed a divide between Committee Democrats and Republicans. Committee Chair, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) is sponsoring S 249, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave “FAMILY Act” (along with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)) in the House. Key provisions, not unlike what President Biden is seeking in his American Family Plan include:
Create a permanent paid family and medical leave program for all workers that provides up to 66% of wage replacement for 12 weeks, anytime they need it. Like the President’s plan it would phase-in over ten years. Both plans would ensure workers receive partial wage replacement to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill loved one, deal with a military deployment, find safety from sexual assault and domestic violence, recovery from a serious illness, or take time to deal with the death of a loved one.
Republican, led by Ranking Member Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) said he preferred a system of tax credits for businesses if they provide paid leave.
The witnesses included Vicki Shabo, Senior Fellow, Better Life Lab at New America, Marcia St. Hilaire-Finn, Founder/CEO of Bright Start Early Care and Preschool, Marianne McManus, Vice President, Health & Benefits IBM/American Benefits Council, Elizabeth Milito, Senior Executive Counsel, National Federation of Independent Business.
Vicki Shabo focused on the need and use for family leave during the pandemic. She testified on her belief that there was a need for a national policy before the pandemic hit families. She also discussed the lack of such supports in the United States while much of the world has addressed family leave policies. She indicated that there are nine states and the District of Columbia that have implemented or will implement paid family and medical leave programs. In examining these state efforts and the make-up of a national law she highlighted leave programs cover an employee’s own serious health issue, care for a seriously ill, injured or disabled loved one, and care for a newborn, an adopted, or newly placed foster child, with some states covering military caregiving, domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.
Marcia St. Hilaire-Finn spoke from the perspective of a small business person running a preschool program. She said that she, along with a strong majority of small business owners, support a national paid family and medical leave program and common-sense national standards for earned sick days. She discussed her experiences in the District of Columbia as the City implemented a family leave program. She said, “instead of unpredictable spikes in payroll costs that fall on us as the employer, we now have access to a public insurance option with small, predictable costs I can plan for.”
Marianne McManus said that IBM has long recognized the vital role paid leave benefits have in the lives of our employees and continues to believe that paid family, sick, and medical leave are essential, particularly with an increasingly mobile and remote workforce. They can only be successful in recruiting and retaining talent if employees do not have to choose between careers and taking time to care for their families. She also said that a federal legislative solution that provides employers a single set of standards nationwide would advance employee equity.
Wrapping up was Elizabeth Milito from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) who was critical of mandates. Whether paid for or unpaid, she argued they would drive up costs and force businesses to cut jobs. She said her organization has long opposed inflexible or mandated leave requirements. She said that unlike larger businesses, small firms do not have cash reserves or profit margins to absorb the increase in labor costs.