Thanks to a provision tucked inside of the National Defense Authorization Act, paid parental leave for most federal employees is now a reality after President Trump signed the bill into law.
Lawmakers have been trying for years to give federal employees paid family leave of some sort, but in the past it has not gone anywhere. Having bipartisan support appears to be a big reason why it looks like it succeeded this time around. Not only that, but one of the last efforts would have only provided 6 weeks of paid family leave; now it’s up to 12.
About the Paid Parental Leave Policy
So how will all of this work?
Currently, federal employees get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) for the following purposes:
- the birth of a son or daughter of the employee and the care of such son or daughter;
- the placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care;
- the care of spouse, son, daughter, or parent of the employee who has a serious health condition; or
- a serious health condition of the employee that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her positions.
- any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the spouse, or a son, daughter, or parent of the employee is on covered active duty (or has been notified of an impending call or order to covered active duty) in the Armed Forces.
Under this new provision set to take effect on October 1, 2020, federal employees would get 12 weeks of paid leave for both mothers and fathers of newborns, newly adopted children or foster children. Federal employees must be in federal service for one year to be eligible for the benefit and would have to return to work for at least the length of leave taken (or else pay for the amount of leave taken).
Democrats had originally pushed for a broader set of benefits to cover family relations and illnesses, but those are not included in this bill.
Keep in mind that some of this could be subject to change depending on what gets passed into law how the finalized regulations are put in place from the Office of Personnel Management and/or each federal agency when the policy is actually implemented.
Costs of a Paid Parental Leave Program
How much will the new policy cost, and how is the government paying for it?
Politico reported when the news first broke that it was not clear how the government plans to pay for the new leave policy.
“House Democrats did not propose how to pay for the proposal when it was initially considered, and it is not immediately clear if, or how, negotiators offset the measure,” wrote Politico.
The costs are not insignificant either. The Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that a paid parental leave policy will cost $3.3 billion from 2021-2024.
“Those changes [under the new paid parental leave policy] would increase costs by allowing [federal] employees to use paid leave in situations where they are currently using unpaid leave, or by allowing employees who currently use paid annual and sick leave in those situations to instead defer that leave for use at a later date. CBO estimates that implementing those changes would cost $3.3 billion over the 2021-2024 period,” wrote CBO.
Other estimates have put the cost as high as $14 billion. Presumably, the new costs will just go to the government’s bottom line and be added to its overall debt.
Future of Paid Parental Leave
Emboldened by their success with the policy for federal employees, Democrats were quick to get the ball rolling on pushing the issue for the entire country.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on December 10 titled Examining the Need for Comprehensive National Paid Family and Medical Leave which lamented the lack of such a program in the United States.
However, Republicans have pushed back on the notion of a nationwide paid parental leave program which suggests the political will may not be there to take beyond the federal workforce just yet.
“We hear a lot of support about the support of the national paid family leave and medical — and I get that it sounds wonderful — but at the end of the day there’s nothing free and at some point this has an enormous cost associated with it,” Congressman Jody Hice (R-GA) said at the House Oversight Committee hearing on a national paid family leave policy.
It’s much too early to know at this point what implications the new paid parental leave program for federal employees will have, if any, for such a program at the national level.