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Victoria Knight
By Victoria Knight November 5, 2021

Paid family leave is back in the Democrats’ reconciliation bill

The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world without a national paid family and medical leave policy that guarantees workers compensation when they take time off to have a child. 

President Joe Biden promised on the 2020 campaign trail that he would create a national paid family and medical leave program allowing all employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off. The promise was part of his campaign platform and is a goal shared by many congressional Democrats. It's also universally popular among the American public: 80% of voters support a national paid family and medical leave program for workers, including 74% of Republicans. 

After originally being negotiated out of Biden's proposed Build Back Better spending bill framework, which started out with a price tag of $3.5 trillion over five years and has shrunken to $1.75 trillion, the national paid family and medical leave provision appears to be making a comeback.  

On Nov. 3, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced in a letter she was putting the program back into the bill. But it's possible Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., could still stop it.  

The West Virginia senator has been opposed to having national paid family and medical leave included in Biden's social spending package, and told reporters after Pelosi's announcement that his stance still hasn't changed on it. 

"That's a challenge and they know how I feel about it," Manchin told reporters on Nov. 3.

Previous legislative proposals have varied in how paid family and medical leave would be structured and funded, though all have had certain similarities. These include allowing a certain number of weeks of paid leave annually for a variety of different reasons, such as having a baby and taking care of yourself or a family member with a medical issue. Other reasons include issues related to a loved one's military deployment or bereavement due to the death of a close family member. 

The government pays some fraction of a worker's wages while they're on leave, with the amount reimbursed varying depending on the worker's income. If a company already provides paid family or medical leave for its employees, it could be reimbursed by the government up to a certain percentage for what employees would receive. 

Since details are still being hammered out, it's unclear what the final version of paid family and medical leave will look like in the reconciliation bill, or even if it will make it into the final package. News reports this week indicated the duration of the leave may be reduced to four weeks, which is shorter than Biden's original promise.  

Still, that's better than zero weeks, said Michelle McGrain, director of congressional relations at the National Partnership of Women and Families, a nonpartisan group that supports paid leave policies.

"Four weeks of paid leave will be life changing for the millions of people" who currently have none, McGrain wrote in an email. "It is estimated to add $43 billion to the economy annually and create 65,000 jobs."

"What it means is people won't have to choose between getting paid and being there when their child is in the hospital or they're getting chemo," McGrain added. 

But a lot could change before Democrats finalize their reconciliation bill and it lands on Biden's desk to be signed into law. Even if the program survives the ongoing negotiations over what initiatives are included, it seems unlikely the provision will include the 12 weeks that Biden originally promised. 

We rate this promise In the Works. 

Our Sources

Email and phone interview with Michelle McGrain, director of congressional relations at the National Partnership for Women and Families, Sept. 30 and Nov. 5, 2021

The Hill, "House Democrats put paid family leave back into bill," Nov. 3, 2021

The House of Representatives - Rules Committee, Rules Committee Print 117-18 Text of H.R. 5376, Build Back Better Act, Nov. 3, 2021, "Four Weeks of Paid Family And Medical Leave Would Add $43 Billion Directly to the Economy Annually And Create 65,000 Jobs," Oct. 24, 2021

The National Partnership for Women and Families, Voters' Views on Paid Family + Medical Leave, Oct. 2018

NBC News, "House Democrats add paid family leave back to proposed $1.75T social safety net bill," Nov. 3, 2021

The Office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Dear Colleague on Moving the Build Back Better Act Forward, Nov. 3, 2021

The White House, The Build Back Better Framework, Oct. 28, 2021

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