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Family-Leave Plan Is Halved

Cost concerns prompted Rep. Henry Waxman to cut the proposed leave in half.
Cost concerns prompted Rep. Henry Waxman to cut the proposed leave in half. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
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By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A proposal to provide eight weeks of paid parental leave to federal employees was cut to four weeks by a key House Democrat yesterday as Republicans expressed concerns about the benefit's cost.

Still, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said four weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child would make the government a leader in strengthening families and would be a "prudent fiscal approach."

Waxman's scaled-back leave benefit was approved by his panel's federal workforce subcommittee on a voice vote, with Republicans in opposition. The vote was on an amendment offered by Waxman to a bill sponsored by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), who has championed legislation for paid parental leave for the past eight years.

The amended bill is "a positive step in the right direction," Maloney said in a statement. "While I would like to see eight weeks of paid leave, I understand that policymaking is about compromise and incremental change."

Maloney has repeatedly pointed to studies showing that the United States has not kept pace with other industrialized countries when it comes to providing paid family leave, suggesting that it is time for the federal government to become a role model for the nation's employers. At a House hearing on her proposal last month, she noted that too often federal employees are forced to choose between their paycheck and spending time with a new child.

But her bill has encountered resistance from the Bush administration, which says federal employees have ample and generous benefits that can be used for maternity leave.

Yesterday, Rep. Kenny Marchant (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the federal workforce subcommittee, and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said that they were concerned about the cost of providing paid parental leave and whether this was the time to grant a new benefit to federal employees.

Federal employees should not receive increased benefits during an economic slowdown, when companies are cutting back, Issa said. By considering paid parental leave for them, "we are making a statement that we are out of touch," he said.

Marchant said he is worried that the bill would carry a "hefty price tag," while Jordan asked Democrats to give him an estimate of its cost.

Waxman said the most recent estimate was made in 2000 for a bill that would have provided six weeks of paid parental leave. It would have cost $95 million in the first year.

His approach, Waxman said, would provide paid leave for four weeks and then permit federal employees to take as much as eight weeks of paid sick leave, assuming they had been in government long enough to save that much sick leave.

Federal employees earn 13 days of paid sick leave each year, which they can build up over the years without limitation. Most employees also earn from 13 to 26 days of paid vacation each year, and they may carry as much as six weeks of annual leave into the following year.

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