Federal employees would be entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for themselves or family members under a new bill Democratic lawmakers put forward on Tuesday, marking an expansion to the long sought-after benefits for civil servants.
The 2019 Federal Employees Paid Leave Act would provide paid time for any federal employee who has, adopts or fosters a child; needs to care for an ill spouse, child or parent; needs to care for their own serious medical condition; or faces certain circumstances after a parent, child or spouse is placed on active military duty. Lawmakers have for years pushed for paid parental leave for federal employees, but currently the workers are entitled only to 12 weeks of time off under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. That time, however, is unpaid.
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Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., has for years introduced measures to give feds six weeks of parental leave, but last year former Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., upped the ante by introducing a 12-week measure. Despite a lack of action on that measure, Maloney again pushed the envelope by widening the conditions under which employees can use the leave.
Maloney said at a press conference on Tuesday that federal employees have been calling her office and asking when the bill would be introduced and signed into law, explaining that they were making family planning decisions around the legislation. She urged the government to set the standard for the rest of the country by giving the paid time off to its own employees, adding it would help agencies retain their workers without costing the government much.
“Workers would cover for whoever is out of the office,” Maloney said. “This is really a win-win. We’ve heard how important it is for the families but it also is instrumental in productivity and work-family balance.”
The bill does not yet have the bipartisan support last year’s iteration did. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., who unseated Comstock in last year’s election, cosponsored Maloney’s bill, along with Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and eight additional Democratic lawmakers.
Maloney said she was confident this would be the year the measure gets to the president for his signature. At the very least, she noted, the House is likely to pass the bill, as it approved similar legislation in the past and the newest iteration already has approval from leadership. She said she decided to expand the scope of the bill due to a push from stakeholders and as a hedge against any negotiations that might take place.
“We thought we’d start out optimistic,” Maloney said. “If they want to cut it back, they can. There are other types of emergencies in people’s lives.”
President Trump, and his daughter, White House Senior Advisor Ivanka Trump, have repeatedly pushed for paid family leave on a national basis. His administration has clashed with lawmakers, however, on how to pay for such a reform.
“I am also proud to be the first president to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave, so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child,” Trump said in his State of the Union address earlier this year.
Maloney said she sent Ivanka Trump a copy of the bill months ago and planned to write to her again now that the bill has been formally introduced.
“I intend to reach out, and hopefully we’ll have her support,” Maloney said.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Ken Thomas, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, called on Congress to quickly pass the “long-overdue” legislation, adding that he personally experienced the difficulties of current policy when his wife gave birth to his four children during his 35-year federal career.
“Paid family-leave policies have been shown to enhance the recruitment and retention of young professionals, reduce turnover costs significantly and improve employee morale, all of which are challenges facing the federal government,” Thomas said. “The Federal Employees Paid Leave Act supports best practices in human resources management and bolsters the federal government’s ability to compete with the private sector in its ongoing efforts to provide Americans with a top-performing, highly qualified workforce.”