The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on October 25, 2023, entitled “Exploring Paid Leave: Policy, Practice, and Impact on the Workforce”. Committee Chairman Ron Wyden [D-OR] opened the hearing by talking about how crucial paid leave is to supporting the America workforce. Without it, Americans must decide between caring for loved ones and providing for their families. Most Western countries have already adopted a national paid leave program, leaving America behind on this important issue. Ranking Member Mike Crapo [R-ID] echoed Chairman Wyden’s sentiments about the importance of this issue but noted that more than 70% of American workers have access to paid sick leave, vacation time, and parental leave, and a federal program could decrease the amount of available paid leave and benefits by lowering the bar and removing benefit competition amongst employers. He urged flexibility in any solution.

Jocelyn Frye, the President of the National Partnership for Women and Families, started the conversation, explaining that women are disproportionately affected by paid leave policies, as they are often the primary caretakers and parents in a household. Therefore, when paid leave is unavailable, they are the ones more likely to have to choose between their job and their loved ones. Additionally, there are large disparities in paid leave availability and household income, with lower wage and hourly jobs being less likely to offer those benefits.

Ben Verhoeven, a second-generation farmer from Oregon and the owner of a small greenhouse business that works with Oregon’s state-run paid leave program, talked about his experience as a small business owner, and how paid leave through the State program costs him less annually than truck repairs, and greatly improves the lives and productivity of his employees. Mr. Verhoeven believes that he sees a large return on his investment through a healthier and happier workforce and high retainment numbers. Without government assistance, he wouldn’t be able to provide comprehensive family leave.

Elizabeth Malito, the Executive Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, countered this perspective with concerns about the lack of flexibility available in a federal paid leave system. In her view, some small businesses simply would not be able to afford to implement these kinds of mandates and would be driven out of business. Rachel Greszler, a Research Fellow in Economics at the Heritage Foundation, pointed out that leave is not always predictable, and the processes are not always efficient.

Chairman Wyden turned back to Mr. Verhoeven and asked him to talk more about the affordability of the paid leave program in Oregon, and he pointed out that the program fully funded itself and was simple to implement. Chairman Wyden concluded the hearing by underscoring that he is committed to finding a flexible and workable solution to paid leave, and passionate about ensuring that Americans have access to this vital resource. In the words of Mr. Verhoeven, “it’s the right thing to do for people, and it’s the right thing to do for business.”

By Rebekah Lawatsch, Policy Intern