Paid parental leave came to national attention in October when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI1) agreed to serve as Speaker of the House with the condition. that he would spend almost every weekend with his family in Wisconsin, instead of crossing the country and holding fundraisers as previous speakers had.
The United States is the only industrialized country not to offer paid parental leave, and one of only three countries in the world along with Suriname and Papua New Guinea, according to UCLA’s World Policy Center. H.R. 1439, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, was introduced in March 2015 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT3) to establish just such a policy, along with its Senate counterpart S. 786 introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
The House bill was referred to the Ways and Means Committee, which Ryan chaired at the time, but he did not bring the bill up for a vote. Ryan’s successor, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX8), has not either. The House bill has 115 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
What the bill would do
The bill would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income paid for by the federal government, up to 66 percent of their monthly wages, for taking time off for any of several conditions, including the birth or adoption of a child. This legislation would apply to all workers in all companies, regardless of seniority, tenure, or company size. The money would come from a new 0.2% payroll tax, or about $1.50 a week for a typical worker,according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
What supporters say
Currently, the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 mandates that employers provide 12 weeks of family leave, but it doesn’t have to be paid leave. The Council of Economic Advisers last year found that only 39 percent of workers report being allowed paid family leave from work. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said in tweets, “Millions of hard-working moms & dads want work/life balance too, @PRyan [Paul Ryan] — but can be fired just asking for time off to care for a sick kid … Family time should not be a privilege reserved for the Speaker of the House. You deserve it — and so does everyone else.”
Ryan’s alternative proposal
However, a Ryan spokesperson told the Huffington Post, “Mr. Ryan is supportive of paid family and medical leave — he offers it to his staff — but believes the decision is best left to the employer, not the government.” Instead, Ryan has co-sponsored bill H.R. 465, the Working Families Flexibility Act, introduced by Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2) last year. The bill would allow employers to offer time off for overtime worked, instead of extra pay, with a rate is 1.5 hours off for every hour worked overtime.
However, that bill has come under criticism from Democrats and left-leaning advocates, who argue that it takes away the safety function of overtime laws and would “make parenting a privileged pursuit.” The bill, which has 149 Republican co-sponsors but no Democrats, passed the House in 2013 with three Democratic votes and eight dissenting Republicans, but never received a vote in the Senate.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act is highly unlikely to be enacted.