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Republican Lawmaker: 'It’s Long Past Time' for Federal Parental Paid Leave

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Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., introduced a bill offering 12 weeks of paid leave. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., introduced a bill offering 12 weeks of paid leave. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A Republican lawmaker in a Northern Virginia district that is home to many federal employees said at a panel discussion Monday that now may be the best chance for Congress to provide civil servants with access to paid parental leave.

“Paid parental leave in the federal government is really long past due,” said Rep. Barbara Comstock.

Comstock has introduced the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act (H.R. 6275), which would provide federal employees with 12 weeks of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. The leave would be available to mothers, fathers and both parents in same sex relationships.

She cited the mention of paid parental leave by President Trump in his State of the Union address, as well as efforts to promote the benefit by his daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump and tax incentives for businesses to adopt the practice that were enacted as part of recent tax reforms.

“We started with the tax provisions, and I know that [Rep.] Carolyn Maloney, [D-N.Y.], who is a cosponsor of a six-week leave bill, she’s talked to Ivanka Trump about it,” Comstock said. “I haven’t had that opportunity yet, but we’re going to try that too.”

For years, lawmakers have introduced legislation to establish six weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees, of which Comstock has been a cosponsor. But she said that given the increased visibility of the issue, proponents should push for 12 weeks, which has become the standard for large private sector employers.

“If we’re going to have this fight, why do it for just six weeks, instead of 12?” she said. “It’s better to go for 12 weeks and to ask and push for that, and do the best we can on that front. This is really something that the business community has come to understand is needed.”

Currently, federal employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a child.

In recent years, paid parental leave has become an issue of competitiveness in the job market, said Jessica Klement, staff vice president for advocacy at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.

“74 percent of Fortune 100 companies offer paid leave to new mothers, so it seems to me we should certainly be offering paid parental leave,” she said. “The largest employers in our countries—look at Starbuck’s, Walmart and Amazon—they all offer paid leave benefits. As the single largest employer, why aren’t we offering comparable benefits? If we want to compete for top talent, we have to be able to do these things.”

Advocates for the bill noted that opponents often cite generous annual and sick leave policies already in place for federal workers, but argue that misunderstands the nature of paid leave in the federal government.

“A new federal employee must work for at least four years before they can accumulate enough sick and vacation time to be able to take three months’ paid leave,” said Kevin Miller, a senior researcher at the American Association of University Women. “Even in the absence of [medical] complications, returning to work right after that is complicated by the difficulty of child care, as most providers do not offer child care for infants.”

Paid parental leave could also improve retention of existing federal workers. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated paid parental leave will have no budget impact, and in fact could save $50 million annually that would otherwise be spent on recruitment for a new hire.  

“People often think, ‘Oh, I’m losing 12 weeks of someone doing work,’ instead of understanding the bigger picture of the cost of replacing someone,” Comstock said. “You’ve got to interview all those people, and then train them, that’s time and money. But if you know that they’re coming back after three months, you don’t have to worry about all of that.”

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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