Effort to Increase Parental Leave Benefits for Federal Workers Renewed

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 2, 2009; 12:00 AM

A bill to provide four weeks of paid leave to federal employees after the birth or adoption of a child has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, a measure supporters say will boost recruitment and retention of younger workers for the government.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who introduced the bill Friday, called the matter "an issue of fairness for federal employees." The bill follows a similar measure introduced in the House on Jan. 22.

Opponents have raised concerns about the cost of the measure, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will be $850 million over five years.

Supporters say the federal government lags behind the private sector, where 53 percent of U.S. employers provide some form of paid parental leave, according to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), one of the sponsors of the House bill.

"The aim of this legislation is to keep the federal workforce in step with the private sector, which has been providing this benefit for many years," Wolf said in a statement. "And with the coming wave of federal retirements, we must ensure that federal employment is a competitive option for young Americans starting families."

An identical bill was passed by the House last year by a vote of 278 to 146, but was not brought to a vote in the Senate. "We're hopeful we can pass it through this Congress," said Kimberly Hunter, a spokeswoman for Webb.

While federal employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, many cannot afford to take unpaid leave and often use up sick leave or vacation, supporters of paid leave say.

"At a time when so many working families are struggling to make ends meet, we can set an example by ensuring that federal workers do not have to choose between their paycheck and caring for a newborn or newly adopted baby," said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) , also a sponsor of the House legislation, said in a statement that paid leave for federal workers is "critical both to employee morale and in competing with the private sector to attract and retain the strongest talent to the federal workforce."

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