On Monday, Congress came to an agreement to guarantee all civilian federal employees up to 12 weeks paid parental leave for newborn and adopted children. The measure was part of a last-minute deal to get the annual defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, passed. It still needs to be voted on both houses of congress but both Democratic and Republican leadership has agreed to the policy. After being passed in the house and senate, it will then need to be signed into law by President Trump.
The new policy affects 2.1 million federal workers, NBC notes, and extends the same parental leave currently available to members of the U.S. military. The negotiations took months and parental leave was the final provision in the defense spending bill. Republican support for paid parental leave has remained nearly non-existant despite Ivanka Trump saying it’s a “priority” for the administration. Democrats in congress were finally able to get Republican support for it by agreeing to fund Trump’s “Space Force.”
US Congress has reached a landmark agreement on paid parental leave for federal employees – the first time the federal government would guarantee civilian employees access to paid leave. https://t.co/eWYpmp8a7a
— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 10, 2019
This is the first major expansion of federal parental leave since the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993. It provided 12 weeks unpaid to federal workers as well as qualifying private sector employees. However, many requirements keep even FMLA out of the reach of employees. Employers don’t have to grant workers FMLA coverage, for example, if they have fewer than 50 employees. Employees also must work for an average of 26 hours a week for twelve months to qualify. And, of course, many workers can’t afford to take that much unpaid time off.
According to the US Burea of Labor Statistics, only 17 percent of employees have access to both paid or unpaid parental. The bill in congress, while a huge step forward, also does nothing to extend the number of workers with access to parental leave since it only offers paid leave to those who would have previously qualified only for unpaid leave.
NBC notes that another bill, the FAMILY Act, currently has 201 sponsors in Congress, only one of them a Republican. It would give almost all workers access to FMLA and make those 12 weeks partially, not unpaid, via a national payroll tax. The tax would be .2%, or 2 cents per $10 and would be around $2 for the average worker.