Thank you Councilmember Silverman and members of the committee for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Hilary Klein. I’m a Ward 1 resident, a proud DCPS parent, and I serve as the Senior Director of Organizing at Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), which organizes thousands of Jews and allies in support of local campaigns for social, racial, and economic justice.
In Jewish tradition, a truly just society is one in which all people — regardless of race, income, or zip code — have what the Torah calls dei machsoro, resources sufficient for their needs. We are called to be partners in the creation of that world. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare and exacerbated deep inequities along racial, economic, and gender lines. We must make different choices as a society, choices to ensure that nobody should have to choose between their job and caring for their family.
JUFJ is also the anchor organization of the DC Paid Family Leave Coalition. I am testifying today on behalf of this coalition, regarding DC’s Paid Family Leave program.
Celebrating the Expansion of DC’s Paid Family Leave Program
The DC Paid Family Leave Coalition was deeply gratified by the announcement from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer that later this year, DC workers will have up to 12 weeks of paid leave for parental, medical, and family caregiving needs and up to 2 weeks for pre-natal leave, and that the payroll tax will be lowered from 0.62% to 0.26%. Since this announcement was made public after the DOES oversight hearing, I wanted to take a moment to more officially celebrate this news.
We would like to thank you, Councilmember Silverman, for your unwavering leadership on this issue, as well as the many other Councilmembers who have championed a strong paid family and medical leave program. We are also deeply grateful to all the workers, parents, and other individuals who have shared their stories, testified at hearings, and advocated in so many other ways for paid family and medical leave. This program would not exist today if not for the working families who spoke up and took action.
The DC Paid Leave Coalition would also like to state clearly that if, at any point the revenue from the 0.26% payroll tax does not sustain this level of benefits, then we expect the payroll tax to be increased, as needed, up to 0.62%, rather than decreasing the benefits.
Responses to the Mayor’s Proposed Budget
Delayed implementation of expanded paid family and medical leave benefits: We were disappointed that the Mayor’s proposed budget delays implementation of these expanded benefits from July 1st to October 1st, and raids the Paid Leave Fund – yet again – to pay for other things. This is not the first time Mayor Bowser has treated the Paid Leave Fund as a slush fund to pay for other priorities that have nothing to do with providing working families with time to care for themselves and their loved ones. The Mayor’s proposed budget also cuts the payroll tax on July 1st, but does not expand benefits until October 1st, which is outrageous. The payroll tax should be lowered and the benefits should be expanded at the same time. And why would we risk reducing the Paid Leave Fund now and routing the funds elsewhere on the eve of an increase in benefits? We don’t have any data yet regarding how much the increase will cost. We think it would be wiser to hold onto those funds for now, as something of a buffer for the Paid Leave Fund.
We have questions about whether DOES really needs an additional 3 months to effectively roll out this expansion. We acknowledge and commend Dr. Morris-Hughes and DOES for their very successful implementation of DC’s Paid Family Leave program overall. If DOES truly needs additional time to update, roll out, and promote these changes, and if the delay will yield better outcomes for the program, then we suggest the following:
- DOES must use the additional time to do sufficient promotion and public education to ensure that the general public knows what benefits they are eligible for and how to access them. The DC Paid Leave Coalition would like to see DOES’s public education and outreach plan, and we also want to know if there are sufficient resources devoted to this plan.
- The payroll tax should remain at 0.62% from July 1st to October 1st and be lowered to 0.26% at the same time as benefits are expanded.
I would like to reiterate that all money in the Paid Leave Fund should be used for DC’s Paid Family Leave program, and not be treated as a slush fund by the Mayor. Any future surplus should be treated as a buffer for the program and/or used to expand paid family and medical leave benefits even more. The original paid family and medical leave legislation proposed 16 weeks of benefits, and we believe that is still what we should be striving for.
Expanded benefits for public sector workers: We were very disappointed to see that the Mayor’s proposed budget does not include funding to expand paid family and medical leave benefits for DC government employees. We look forward to submitting more detailed testimony to the appropriate hearing. In the meantime, I just want to say that it was a missed opportunity for the Bowser administration to create parity between private and public sector workers, and to show that it respects the human dignity of its public servants and their families by funding this expansion.
Permanent elimination of the waiting week: On the other hand, we were very pleased that the Mayor’s proposed budget made the temporary elimination of the 7-day waiting period permanent. The Budget Support Act of 2021 eliminated this waiting period on a one-year trial basis, until July 2022. We very much support permanently eliminating the waiting period, because we believe that it unnecessarily excludes people who would otherwise be eligible for paid leave, especially people who only need a few days of paid leave.
Current Employment Status
I would also like to take this opportunity to express the DC Paid Leave Coalition’s support for the Universal Paid Leave Portability Amendment Act of 2022 (B24-0661), which Councilmember Silverman introduced last month. This legislation would expand access to DC’s Paid Family Leave program for working families who have already earned paid leave, but who are in between jobs when they need to access that leave.
When the DC Council passed the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act in 2016, which established benefits to private-sector workers for parental, medical, or family caregiving leave, these benefits were intended to be portable as workers moved between jobs. However, current regulations require a person who is applying for paid leave benefits to be employed at the time of their application. This means that people who were laid off because they were not protected under DC’s Family and Medical Leave Act, or who were illegally laid off for taking protected leave, cannot apply for leave even though their employers have paid into the system on their behalf.
The Universal Paid Leave Portability Amendment Act of 2022 fixes this by making it clear that workers who are unemployed when they apply for paid family or medical leave benefits may access benefits based on their past work and earnings.
We have seen the life-changing impact that access to paid family and medical leave has had for families across the District, particularly during the pandemic, so we are very heartened that this bill currently has 9 co-sponsors. We would like to thank all the co-sponsors for your support, to ensure that no one is unfairly excluded from these benefits that they need and deserve.
As always, JUFJ and the DC Paid Leave Coalition are ready and willing to support DOES in any way we can, to ensure that paid leave is accessible to all District workers. We look forward to working with DOES and the Council on these and other issues, to ensure that DC’s Paid Family Leave program works as well as possible for working families. Thank you again for the chance to testify.