In #FamilyFirstFridays, Paid Family Leave, Washington, DC

On January 29, 2019, Paid Family Leave Campaign Manager Joanna Blotner testified at an oversight hearing about why we need to stay on track to implement universal paid family leave. Here’s what she said.

Testimony of Joanna Blotner, DC Paid Family Leave Campaign Manager

at the Public Oversight Roundtable on the Implementation of Law 21-264,
The Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act

Before the Committee on Labor & Workforce Development

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Good afternoon Councilmember Silverman and members and staff of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee. Thank you for holding today’s public oversight roundtable on the implementation of the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act (Law 21-264). My name is Joanna Blotner and I am the DC Paid Family Leave Campaign Manager at Jews United for Justice.

As you know, we are now just six months out from the first major milestone of the paid leave program: tax collection. Leaders from our coalition have been meeting sporadically with the team at the Office of Paid Family Leave over the past year and tracking implementation progress as closely as we can. We are consistently impressed with the thoughtfulness of the analysts, lawyers, and other specialists who are tasked with shepherding the paid leave law from concept to reality, and we are grateful that Dr. Morris-Hughes continues to have a hands-on approach to implementation. In my previous testimonies I have noted the high quality of work we have seen DOES produce, especially with respect to the new paid leave website and printed materials. We are, however, increasingly concerned that implementation work does not appear to be keeping pace with impending deadlines. Included at the end of my testimony is a summary of my understanding of the work and timelines ahead of us to meet those deadlines.  

Since October, when our coalition last met with the OPFL team and when I last testified before this committee, there have been no public indicators of progress on procurement, regulations, resolutions to concerns associated with both tax and benefit regulations, formation of a tri-sector working group, employer or worker public education, or other forms of stakeholder outreach. As we are only privy to the information shared publicly via the quarterly reports or updates posted to the various paid leave websites, it is not possible for our coalition to have a complete picture of the implementation work that is happening. I am confident there is excellent work happening behind the scenes, and of course there is work that necessitates privacy, but without progress being made public, it’s hard not to worry about possible delays, and what impact those delays will have on DC’s overall ability to meet implementation deadlines.

Employers urgently need detailed guidance about how to comply with the paid leave law and tax collection. Workers across the District who are trying to plan their families, finances, and caregiving responsibilities need to know, with confidence, whether and when they can count on the availability of paid leave benefits. Almost three years ago, Kim, a security guard and member of SEIU 32BJ, was in tears at the hospital after her son, who was 16 at the time, was admitted to the ER following a bout of seizures associated with his multiple sclerosis. She was panicking about his health and her financial situation after a distressing call with her boss. Had it not been for a sympathetic doctor, she would’ve likely lost her job and fallen inescapably behind on her bills simply because her son needed her attention and care during his three and a half week hospital stay. Kim, her son David, and families across the District are counting on paid leave benefits to help alleviate the stress and financial strains that all caregivers face.  

Paid leave is also a competitive advantage for our local economy. Paid leave will help DC businesses attract and retain talent that might otherwise be lost to neighboring jurisdictions, to comparable cities offering paid leave (New York, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, etc.), or to the federal workforce which, up until quite recently, was considered a very stable career choice. This is precisely the choice that Lindsay, a former Ward 5 resident, is facing. She is currently completing a PhD in California and applying to jobs to start the next phase of her career. Lindsay, however, has a liver condition that will necessitate a transplant in the next few years so, while she loves DC and had hoped to return, she must prioritize paid leave security in her job search. To help our local businesses recruit talent like Lindsay’s and maximize the economic benefits of paid leave, employers need information about program compliance as soon as possible.

In addition to finalizing tax collection regulations, DOES can support employers by rewriting FAQ resources in simple language, creating an FAQ resource for self-employed individuals, providing template language for employee handbooks, offering guidance on how employers can budget for tax collection, and providing significantly more opportunities for employers to engage with DOES in person or by phone to have personalized questions answered. It would be helpful to see a comprehensive work plan for employer outreach and education in the coming months. Our coalition welcomes any opportunity to support and amplify that work.

Whether we’re approaching paid leave from the perspective of economic competitiveness or leveling the playing field for small businesses, we cannot afford to delay a world class paid leave program in DC. Paid leave will ensure all children get their best start to thrive by five, reduce maternal mortality, promote gender equality, and afford all families dignity and financial stability when life throws the inevitable curveball. I hope today’s hearing assuages our concerns around perceived delays, and I look forward to working with DOES and the Council to advance implementation in any way possible. As always, I’d be happy to answer your questions. Thank you.

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