For most Americans, a sick day is a workday. If you want to get paid, you don’t stay home. Not even when you or your child are ill, not even if you just gave birth.
Most private sector workers in the US have no paid medical leave benefits; just 12 percent have employer-sponsored paid family leave. Most low-wage workers risk income or losing their job if they take a single sick day. But in the nation’s capital, workers might soon be able to take four months for medical care. A new proposal in the DC city council would offer 16 weeks of paid medical leave—the strongest such policy in the country, according to Council Members David Grosso and Elissa Silverman, who introduced the bill this week.
The program would be financed through a city-run fund based partially on fees from employers, estimated at up to 1 percent of their payroll.
The scheme would provide full wage replacement for the first $1,000 of average weekly income, and for income above that, provide half of average earnings, with a maximum weekly benefit of $3,000.
The proposal dramatically extends an existing paid leave program that guaranteed eight weeks of family leave for municipal workers, covering both public and private sector employees in the city, or more than 740,000 workers altogether.
Upon first glance, the District doesn’t seem like a bastion of progressive urban policy: DC is one of the most economically polarized places in the country, with massive wealth divides between blacks and whites. Amid swelling costs of housing and childcare, about one-fifth of DC families with children are headed by single parents, most with incomes of less than $50,000 a year.
But these devastating inequalities may be exactly why DC is driving toward a comprehensive family leave policy. In a statement to The Nation, Grosso says his position as Chair of the Council’s Education Committee has made him aware that “the first years of a child’s life are critical to eventual academic success, and paid leave is a part of that equation,” complementing the city’s new initiatives to offer universal pre-kindergarten and expand child care services.