Lack of Paid Parental Leave for Feds Is 'Shameful' and a 'Disgrace,' House Dems Say

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., is sponsoring the bill. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., is sponsoring the bill. Lauren Victoria Burke/AP file photo

House Democrats on Monday unveiled their plan to give federal employees paid parental leave, following up on a push by President Obama to provide the new benefit.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., introduced the Federal Employee Paid Parental Leave Act on Monday, more than 15 years after she first put the bill forward. The legislation -- which would give both male and female federal workers six weeks of paid leave after the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child -- passed the House in the 111th Congress in a second effort but floundered in the Senate.

“This is embarrassing,” Maloney said during a press conference at the Capitol Building, referring to the lack of paid parental leave. “I would say that it is shameful, and it’s a disgrace.”

The bill would not require federal employees to dip into their accrued sick or annual leave to take six paid weeks off after the birth or placement of a new child. As part of his administration’s push to improve work-family balance, Obama signed an executive order earlier this month allowing feds to use up to six weeks of paid sick leave up front to care for a new child or an ill family member. Obama also called for separate congressional legislation; Maloney’s bill would build upon his unilateral action.

Under current Family and Medical Leave Act policy -- signed by President Clinton -- feds can take up to 12 weeks off to care for a new child, but that leave is unpaid. Maloney said not offering paid leave for new parents lags far behind other nations and the private sector.

“Certainly the federal government should be setting an example for the rest of the country, an example for the world,” said Maloney, who stood next to a world map that showed the United States and Papua New Guinea were the only countries on Earth, according to the United Nations, that do not offer paid parental leave. “We’re supposed to progressive. We’re supposed to be leaders.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who also spoke at the press conference, noted federal employees are middle-class workers who have been “stuck in the mud” for the last several years. The new benefit would help agencies recruit and retain “the top people,” Hoyer said.

“We are at risk of not being able to recruit the top talent that America needs, that Americans need and that our federal government needs to do the complex and challenging jobs of making sure the American people are served well,” he added.

The lawmakers pointed to a report from the Democratic members of the Joint Economic Committee to demonstrate the apparent economic benefits of paid family and sick leave. From the federal government’s perspective, they said paid parental leave ensures federal workers stay in their jobs instead of leaving and creating turnover costs.  They added it would benefit children to have increased access to their parents during their most formative period.

“Yes it’s family friendly,” Hoyer said, “but more importantly, it’s good business.”

Lawmakers also said repeatedly the legislation would not add anything to the deficit. A Congressional Budget Office score of the bill from the 111th Congress found  the new benefit would not create any direct spending, although the annual value of the paid time off was $140 million for four weeks and $209 million for eight weeks. Maloney and her colleagues stressed that while employees were on parental leave, other workers would simply have to pick up the slack.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said the current policy of offering unpaid leave forces parents to choose either their job or their child.

“I was one of those that applauded the 12-week Family and Medical Leave Act,” Norton said. “But let’s be candid. It’s all but useless,” to those who do cannot afford to miss paychecks.

Several federal employee groups praised the bill, calling its passage long overdue.

“This proposal helps narrow a gaping hole in the benefits offered to federal employees,” said J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees. He added the federal government already reimburses many of its contract employees for parental leave.

Maloney said she is confident if the bill makes it to the House floor, it would pass. Her confidence comes from the fact that it is deficit neutral, as well as the growing number of women in the House Republican caucus. The bill does not yet have any Republican sponsors, however, and Republican leaders on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee did not respond to requests for comment. 

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