Paid Family Leave Will Be In Dems' Reconciliation Bill. So What'll It Look Like?
Every year since 2013, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) have introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act in their respective houses of Congress. And every year since 2013, Republicans have blocked it, because America can't afford such luxuries as paid family and medical leave, even though all the other industrialized democracies can.
But 2021 just might be the year that paid family leave becomes a reality. When Joe Biden rolled out his American Families Plan, its family leave provisions were pretty similar to the FAMILY Act, making 12 weeks of paid family leave available for a wide range of needs:
- New parents
- caregivers for a sick family member
- survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence seeking safety
- time off for one's own illness
The proposal would allow workers to collect between 66 percent and 80 percent of their regular pay, up to $4,000 a month. It would be phased in over 10 years, with the full 12 weeks of leave only becoming available in the tenth year.
Gillibrand endorsed the Biden plan, saying she was "proud to see" Biden include paid family leave in his proposal for "human infrastructure."
This week, the White House and Democratic senators agreed to pursue much of Biden's first-year agenda through a budget reconciliation bill, and they made clear that paid family leave is already built into the agreement's $3.5 trillion "framework." That's terrific! Now, we just need to figure out exactly what that will look like. As we've said, the real construction of the bill itself will get underway in September, so there's a lot yet to be defined, including the cost and scope of a family leave bill.
As Politico noted in May, passing paid family leave through reconciliation may result in a less robust version of the plan than envisioned in the FAMILY Act or Biden's original proposal. That's because the Senate's reconciliation rules, as we should all know now that it's one of the few ways anything gets passed, are fucking weird. Getting family leave through reconciliation
would likely block lawmakers from being able to enact accompanying job protections, meaning that workers who take advantage of the newly established paid leave and aren't covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 would have no guarantee that their jobs would be waiting for them when they return. That's because the guideline governing reconciliation, known as the Byrd rule, bars policy-related provisions that are considered extraneous to the budget.
FMLA, which provides qualifying workers with 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave and requires employers to reinstate them after, only applies to an estimated 6 in 10 workers — meaning that 40 percent of the workforce could lack any kind of federal legal protections promising them their jobs back should they take Biden's paid leave. And the number of workers whose jobs are guaranteed under that law is shrinking every year because of how the restrictions are shaped.
It's all pretty complicated, and more than I want to summarize on a Friday afternoon, but you might want to bookmark that Politico piece for future reference. It's all up to how the bill is written: If the parliamentarian can be convinced that the eligibility rules meet the guidelines of the Byrd Rule, then maybe this won't be an issue. Or it could be like the initial inclusion of a $15 minimum wage in the American Rescue Plan: The draft bill made a case that a minimum wage hike was a budget measure, but the parliamentarian said, nahh, not according to the rules.
Back in May, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), a cosponsor of the FAMILY Act, said she was "hopeful" that a reconciliation bill could include those job protections and still meet the Byrd rule, so we'll see.
And even if a reconciliation version of paid family and medical leave has to leave out some of those protections just to get passed, it's also possible that Congress might add them back in later legislation, like for instance if the GOP keeps lurching so far toward outright craziness that Democrats pick up more seats in 2022 and have a large enough Senate majority to kill the filibuster.
Not really a plan to count on, we know. Far better to activate the mind control microchips in the coronavirus vaccine so Joe Manchin will agree to filibuster reform.
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