In Budget Advocacy, Just Recovery DC, Paid Family Leave, Washington, DC

The Campaign for DC Paid Family Leave is outraged that Mayor Bowser has proposed raiding our city’s groundbreaking paid family and medical leave program in order to implement a tax cut that would overwhelmingly benefit the largest corporations in the District. All of us, no matter our race, our zip code, or how much we are paid, need to be able to care for our families. At a time when people most need the support of this valuable program, this shortsighted action would harm DC’s small businesses and working families — especially Black and brown families, who due to systemic racism are less likely to have employer-provided paid family and medical leave. 

We call on the DC Council to:

  • reject the Mayor’s proposed tax cuts for businesses
  • use surplus money in the paid family and medical leave fund to expand benefits
  • make critical programmatic changes to ensure that everyone who is eligible can use our city’s paid leave program.

As the coalition has said from the very beginning, surplus funds should be used as they were intended: to expand benefits for the working families who need them, not provide tax breaks for large companies. We urge the Council to implement a one-year expansion of medical leave and family caregiving leave to 8 weeks, to match the 8 weeks given for parental leave. Currently, the program only pays for 2 weeks of personal medical leave. If we are serious about an equitable recovery from the pandemic, it is critical to expand medical leave. For years, national and local policy experts have said that based on what other states’ leave programs cost, the same payroll tax we have now could actually fund much higher paid leave benefits. The original proposal for Paid Family Leave in DC would have provided 16 weeks of paid parental, family caregiving, and personal medical leave, which is far from the reduced benefits we now have. The Paid Family and Medical Leave program is not over-funded; rather, it under-provides benefits. We support the use of $15 million to help working people who are excluded from federal aid. 

In her proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Mayor Bowser has instead chosen to raid hundreds of millions of dollars from paid family and medical leave to implement wasteful tax cuts. There are many ways the city can help the small businesses that were hit hard by the pandemic. But the Mayor’s proposed tax cut is not a meaningful source of assistance. The paid family and medical leave tax is modest: a 0.62% payroll tax that amounts to just over one-half of one percent. Since it is based on payroll, many businesses that laid off employees during the pandemic have already paid less in taxes than they anticipated. Instead of substantially assisting small businesses, this tax cut disproportionately benefits the largest corporations in the District — it is unnecessary and wasteful.  Essential needs should be funded by asking wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their fair share in taxes, not by weakening programs that have helped thousands of working families stay afloat during this crisis. 

Finally, the paid family and medical leave fund currently shows a surplus in part because so many workers, especially Black and brown people, were laid off or otherwise disqualified from using the program during the COVID pandemic. The Council must make important changes to the program’s rules to address this and ensure that all eligible people can access the program. Specifically, the DC Paid Family Coalition urges the Council to:

  1. Ensure that workers have job protection so that they can actually take paid family leave, matching federal law and so that workers who are laid off and hired back by the same company have job protection to take their paid leave.
  2. Change the program so that people do not need to be currently employed in order to access paid leave. People who have lost their jobs this past year should not lose access to the paid family and medical leave that their former employers already paid for on their behalf.
  3. Protect workers who lost jobs or income during the pandemic. The Paid Family Leave program should look back for a longer time period and base leave benefit amounts on earnings from the highest quarters. This would protect workers from losing access to their paid family and medical leave benefits if, like so many, they had no or low income during the pandemic.
  4. Make it easier for workers to receive paid leave by reducing the 7-day waiting period and allowing them to apply for benefits for leave they have already taken.
  5. Follow the advice from national experts to allow birth parents to use personal medical leave and parental leave back to back.

Our coalition calls on all DC Councilmembers to speak out against the Mayor’s fiscally irresponsible proposal to raid the paid family and medical leave program, which would harm all working families and hit Black and brown families especially hard. When they amend the city’s fiscal year 2022 budget, the DC Council should restore funding to the popular and effective paid family and medical leave program by rejecting the proposed tax cut, and should expand benefits and implement critical programmatic improvements.

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