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Shifting Debate over Paid Family Leave

April 17, 2019

In the midst of economic policy debates on tariffs and trading gaps, one policy debate has continued for years in many different iterations: Paid Family Leave.  This week, the Senate introduced Bill 1174 as a companion bill to the House’s 2019 Federal Employees Paid Leave Act. Both bills support 12 weeks of paid leave for federal employees in cases of births, adoptions, fostering a child as well as taking time to support sick family members or long term illness of the employee.¹ The bill, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) is not the first time that the House has tried to enter into deliberation over paid sick and parental leave for federal employees. There have been House bills introduced since 2009 with similar aims.  But this House bill does coincide with a vocal interest from the Trump administration to tackle family leave and a very high-profile interest from presidential daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump.² The House bill has bi-partisan support with 27 co-sponsoring the bill and now with the additional Senate bill, it seems that Congress is hoping the support from the President will be the push that the long-standing debate needs.

As Congress debates the leave policies for federal employees, what does this mean for other workers in the U.S.? Unlike any other industrial nation, the United States has no laws guaranteeing paid family leave. In the past few years, some states, including California and Connecticut, have enacted state laws regarding paid family leave, but currently there are no federal statutes that mandate any paid leave for new parents, employees who care for sick family members, or leave for elderly care.

A recent poll, cited by the Brooking Institution, shows that 84 percent of Americans support paid family leave. ³ Supporters span across the political spectrum from more liberal women’s rights advocates to more conservative family values groups.   There are also vocal opponents of paid family leave, who argue that paid leave will burden small business owners and impede the ability for employers to make the best decisions for their own organization and their own employees.

In 1993, the Family and Medical Leave act ensured unpaid leave and since that point, the debate over paid leave has continued in some form.  Many lawmakers, including the most recent bill’s sponsor, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, but also presidential hopeful Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and current House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have tried unsuccessfully to introduce paid family leave legislation in the past.  Only now, when the Presidential Administration is lending more bipartisan support, does the bill have a chance of success.  Recently Ivanka Trump was quoted as saying “We are seeking to build consensus around policy that can garner enough votes to be passed into law.”₄

Time will tell if an all-encompassing paid leave law will be enacted to impact all U.S. workers, but a law that impacts federal workers is a good indication on how Congress is leaning on this issue.



  • Imagine a written policy  response to the Family Leave Act from differing organizations’ viewpoints:
    • Labor unions
    • Small Business associations
    • Doctors and healthcare workers
    • Religious leaders
    • Disability rights advocates
  • What are the main economic issues at debate?  The main societal issues?
  • Do you think that  policies are harder to debate when they include personal impact like issues of family and health?  Should Congress view the policy through a personal lens or focus only on the economic impact?
  • What is the role of the federal government in the employer/employee relationship? Should the government ensure fair treatment of employees through blanket legislation on family leave? Or does this type of legislation give government over-reach to meddle in contracts between employers and their employees?


Featured Image: Information source: U.S. Department of Labor; Bureau of Labor Statistics; Image from: https://bthechange.com/3-reasons-paid-family-leave-matters-863d08dd96a5
[1] Wagner, E. (2019, April 12). Senators Join In Renewed Efforts to Give Feds Paid Family Leave. Retrieved from https://www.govexec.com/pay-benefits/2019/04/senators-join-renewed-efforts-give-feds-paid-family-leave/156289/
[2] House Democrats revive efforts to give federal employees paid family leave. (2019, March 06). Retrieved fromhttps://federalnewsnetwork.com/pay-benefits/2019/03/house-democrats-revive-efforts-to-give-federal-employees-paid-family-leave/
[3] Mathur, A., & Sawhill, I. (2018, September 09). A path forward on paid family leave. Retrieved from https://thehill.com/opinion/finance/405568-a-path-forward-on-paid-family-leave
[4] Salam, M. (2019, February 15). Could the U.S. Get Paid Family Leave? It’s Looking Better Than Ever. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/15/us/paid-family-leave.html



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