Believe it or not, there is some light in the COVID-19 darkness for working families trying to hang on to their jobs while caring for themselves or family members in a pandemic. As of July 1, 2020, DC Paid Family Leave provides workers employed by private employers in the District with benefits lasting up to eight weeks per year to bond with a new child, six weeks per year to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or two weeks per year to care for the employee’s own serious health condition. Benefits provide up to 90 percent of usual weekly wages up to a weekly maximum benefit of $1,000.
These benefits are paid by a small payroll tax of 0.62 percent of wages paid by employers. While no one likes paying taxes, the social insurance model underlying the existing state programs (California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York and Washington) like DC’s is favored by small businesses who are not able to provide these benefits on their own. The current crisis underscores the interconnectivity of workplace and community health, and paid leave empowers employees to make the right choices for their families and coworkers. It also helps employers attract and retain a skilled workforce by offering compensation packages comparable to larger organizations.
Of note, DC’s program provides benefits to those employed inside its borders, but many DC workers are employed in Virginia or Maryland and are not covered by the new program; this highlights the need for a national policy. Until that happens, victories in states and territories like DC are worth celebrating.