Pri­va­tized funds seen as key for leave bill

Hold­out on coun­cil says amend­ment cuts costs

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY RYAN M. MCDER­MOTT

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.”

RYAN M. MCDER­MOTT/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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.

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