Privatized funds seen as key for leave bill
Holdout on council says amendment cuts costs
Two D.C. Council members are making a last-minute push to transform how paid family leave would be funded under a bill set to win final approval Tuesday.
“The question really becomes, how do we finance this in the best way possible?” Jack Evans said Monday at a press briefing.
Mr. Evans and fellow council member Mary M. Cheh plan to file an amendment to the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2015 that would privatize the program, which the government would oversee. The publicly funded version passed a preliminary vote two weeks ago, with only Mr. Evans and Yvette Alexander voting against it.
Mr. Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said privatization would drastically cut costs, which could total $80 million to create an agency to administer the program.
“Paid family leave is going to happen,” Ms. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said at the press briefing. “But there are concerns I have and Mr. Evans has had and others have had about the proposal on the table. And so we want to see if there is an alternative available.”
Under the Evans-Cheh plan, the onus of funding and implementing paid leave would be on employers. For businesses with fewer than 70 workers, the city would give employers a $200-a-year tax credit for each worker to offset the costs.
Mr. Evans said it would cost businesses an average of $400 per employee to fund paid leave, so the tax credit would cover half the costs for small businesses.
The revised plan includes a hardship petition to reimburse businesses the rest of the money if they can’t afford paid leave or have extenuating circumstances such as several employees taking maternity leave at the same time.
Under the current measure, the city government would run the program, which would be funded via a 0.62 percent payroll tax on all businesses regardless of the number of employees.
Both programs would provide eight weeks of leave for caring for a newborn or newly adopted child, six weeks for tending to a sick relative and two weeks for taking care of one’s personal medical needs.
Ms. Cheh said that although she prefers the employer mandate, she would vote for the measure if the revision does not get enough votes.
Mr. Evans said he has secured six council votes for his measure, adding that Mayor Muriel Bowser told him privately that she supports the employer mandate. Mr. Evans would not identify the lawmakers who support the revision, but during a council breakfast early this month, several council members were seeking a legislative option.
LaRuby May, Ward 8 Democrat; Anita Bonds, at-large Democrat; Brandon Todd, Ward 4 Democrat; and Miss Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, voted for the measure two weeks ago, but they expressed concern about funding. They also worried that too much money would go to workers who are employed in the District but live in Maryland and Virginia.
Of the District’s 531,999 workers, about 195,000 also live in the city. Employment statistics show that 201,981 live in Maryland and 134,192 in Virginia, meaning nearly two-thirds of the city’s workforce would receive and likely spend paid leave benefits outside the District.
The business lobby supports the Evans-Cheh employer mandate plan, noting that many large companies already have paid leave programs.
Under the current bill, workers would not be able to use paid leave until 2020: It will take one year to create the agency to administer the program and a another year to collect enough tax revenue to fund it.
Mr. Evans said his version would be ready by October because there would be little government interference outside of its oversight role.
Not everyone is convinced that an employer mandate is the way to go. Council member Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, sent an email blasting Mr. Evans and Ms. Cheh for trying to meddle with a bill that is poised for approval.
“The eleventh-hour employer mandate scheme presented this morning would make providing paid family leave financially impossible for all but the District’s largest businesses,” said Ms. Silverman. “It is a risky and volatile proposal, which has not been vetted in public debate.”
D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, is introducing an alternative method to fund a paid family leave bill. Mr. Evans proposes allowing business owners to pay for family leave without levying a payroll tax against them.