White House Unveils New Steps to Strengthen Working Families Across America
Thursday, the President unveiedl new proposals to strengthen the middle class by giving working families the flexibility to balance their families and jobs and giving all Americans the opportunity to earn sick days. Building on the steps the Administration announced last year during the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families.
Thursday’s announcement includes:
- Calling on Congress, as well as States and cities, to pass legislation that would allow millions of working Americans to earn up to seven days of paid sick time per year;
- Proposing more than $2 billion in new funds to encourage states to develop paid family and medical leave programs and announcing that the Department of Labor will use $1 million in existing funds to help States and municipalities conduct feasibility studies; and
- Modernizing the Federal workplace by signing a Presidential Memorandum directing agencies to advance up to six weeks of paid sick leave for parents with a new child and calling on Congress to pass legislation giving federal employees an additional six weeks of paid parental leave.
The challenge of balancing work and family has grown as families have shifted so that today in most families all parents work and all parents contribute to caregiving. Across married and single parent families, all parents are working in more than 60 percent of households with children, up from 40 percent in 1965. And today, more than 60 percent of women with children under the age of 5 participate in the labor force, compared with around 30 percent in the 1970s. Yet the fundamental structure of work has not kept pace with the changing American family, and many families are struggling to balance obligations at home and on the job. In fact, the United States remains the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave.
That is why the President is announced additional efforts to help working families that build on the steps he announced at last June’s White House Summit, including support for states to design paid leave programs and a Presidential Memorandum that established a “right to request” flexible workplace arrangements for Federal workers and directed Federal agencies to expand flexible workplace policies to the maximum possible extent. The White House Council on Economic Advisers also released a report last June on the economic benefits of paid leave. From increasing the minimum wage, to equal pay for women, to workplace flexibility, to child care, to paid leave – President Obama is taking action on issues that impact America’s working families.
EXPANDING ACCESS TO EARNED SICK DAYS
When 43 million private-sector workers are without any paid sick leave, too many workers are unable to take the time they need to recover from an illness. Many workers will go to work sick, putting their coworkers and customers at risk of illness. And even if workers have access to paid sick leave for themselves, they may not be able to use it to care for sick children. This forces many parents to choose between taking an unpaid day off work—losing much needed income and potentially threatening his or her job—and sending a child who should be home in bed to school.
Just as importantly, a body of research shows that offering paid sick days and paid family leave can benefit employers by reducing turnover and increasing productivity. Paid sick days would help reduce lost productivity due to the spread of illness in the workplace. And these policies can benefit our economy by fostering a more productive workforce. Policies that better support working families can meet the needs of both employers and employees alike, and strengthen America’s economy. For this reason, it is no surprise that many businesses see the benefit of employees earning sick days. Two years after passage of a law requiring workers to earn paid sick days in Connecticut, more than three-quarters of employers responding to a survey indicated that they supported the new law, and employers reported that there were little or no negative effects of the new law on their bottom line.
Thursday, the President:
- Called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act. The Healthy Families Act, championed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Patty Murray, would allow millions of working Americans to earn up to seven days per year of paid sick time. Workers could use this time to care for themselves or a sick family member, obtain preventive care, or address the impacts of domestic violence.
- Called on States and cities to pass similar laws. While Congress considers the Healthy Families Act, states and localities should waste no time in passing their own laws allowing workers to earn sick leave. In 2006, San Francisco became the first locality in the Nation to guarantee access to earned sick days. In 2008, the District of Columbia followed suit, passing a paid sick days law that also included paid “safe” days for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. In 2011, Connecticut became the first state to pass a statewide paid sick days law. It was followed by California and this year, voters in Massachusetts supported earned sick days by overwhelming majority. A number of cities have also recently enacted laws allowing workers to earn and accrue sick leave, including Seattle, Portland, New York City, Newark, San Diego, Eugene, and Oakland.
EXPANDING ACCESS TO PAID FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), many workers may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off without losing their job to care for a new child, recover from a serious illness, or care for an ill family member (roughly 60 percent of workers are eligible for the law’s protections). However, employers are not required to provide paid leave for these purposes and often choose to make it unpaid. For too many Americans, unpaid leave is unaffordable. Moreover, evidence shows that mothers, who do typically take some time off in order to give birth, are more likely to return to their jobs and to stay in the workforce if they are able to take paid maternity leave.
Thursday, the President:
- Outlined a new plan to help more states create paid leave programs. Three states—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—have launched programs offering paid family and medical leave, and President Obama believes that more can be done to promote state action. His FY 2016 Budget will propose $2.2 billion in mandatory funding to reimburse up to five states for three years for the administrative costs and roughly half of the cost of benefits associated with implementing a program. The President’s Budget will also include $35 million in competitive grants to assist states that are still building the administrative infrastructure they would need to launch paid leave programs in the future.
- Provided new funding for feasibility studies. The Department of Labor is announcing that, using existing funds this year, it will offer $1 million in new funding for its Paid Leave Analysis Grant Program, providing competitive grants to six to ten states or municipalities to conduct paid leave feasibility studies. These grants will be administered by the Women’s Bureau and builds on the tremendous response to last year’s grant program that provided a total of $500,000 to programs in three states and the District of Columbia.
- Proposed legislation to provide paid family leave to federal workers. While Federal workers already have access to paid sick leave and vacation time, the government has fallen behind industry-leading companies and offers no paid time off specifically for family or parental leave. In order to recruit and retain the best possible workforce to provide outstanding service to American taxpayers, the President is proposing legislation similar to the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act championed by Rep. Maloney. The President’s proposal would provide Federal employees with six weeks of paid administrative leave for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child. In addition, the proposal would allow parents to use sick days to care for a healthy child after a birth mother’s period of incapacitation or after an adoption.
- Took action to modernize federal parental leave policy. Thursday, the President signed a Presidential Memorandum directing agencies to allow for the advance of six weeks of paid sick leave for parents with a new child, employees caring for ill family members, and other sick leave-eligible uses. This will allow mothers the opportunity to recuperate after child birth, even if they have not yet accrued enough sick leave. It will also allow spouses and partners to care for mothers during their recuperation periods and will allow both parents to attend proceedings relating to the adoption of a child. Advanced annual leave is to be made available to employees for placement of a foster child in their home. Finally, the Presidential Memorandum directs agencies to consider a benefit some agencies already offer—help finding, and in some cases providing, emergency backup care for children, seniors, and adults with disabilities that parents can use when they need to go to work but their regular care is not available. Some agencies provide this benefit through their Employee Assistance Program, and it can help parents with a temporary need for safe care for their children.