The story has been updated.
President Obama signed a presidential memorandum Thursday directing agencies to allow federal workers to take six weeks of advanced paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family members.
The move came as Obama also called on Congress to expand these benefits further by passing the Healthy Families Act, which would grant Americans seven days a year of paid sick time.
To highlight the importance of paid leave, Obama met Tuesday afternoon with three women in Charmington's, a cafe in Baltimore City whose owners are proponents of both raising the minimum wage and providing sick leave to employees. The women included Amanda Rothchild, a co-owner and managing partner of Charmington's; Mary Stein, the mother of two grown children and a school nurse in the Howard County public school; and Morvika “Vika” Jordan, the mother of two teenagers who took just two months' maternity leave when her daughter was born because she could afford to be out of work without pay.
After the meeting Obama noted that all three of them had witnessed this challenge first-hand, "So this is an issue that spans geography, spans demographics."
Given recent economic gains in the U.S., the president said, "Now we have to make sure that that economy is benefitting everybody."
"And by adopting this working families agenda, thinking about how we can provide more flexibility to families, thinking about how we can make sure that moms and dads don't have to choose between looking after their kids and doing what they need to do at work, thinking about all those families that are now trying to care for an aging parent -- that kind of flexibility ultimately is going to make our economy stronger and is just one piece of what needs to be a really aggressive push to ensure that if you work hard in this country then you can make it," he added.
The new presidential memorandum, entitled "Modernizing Federal Leave Policies for Childbirth, Adoption and Foster Care to Recruit and Retain Talent and Improve Productivity," will allow federal employees to take up to six weeks of paid sick leave, even if they have not accrued that much time off yet.
The administration will also propose using more than $2 billion in new funds to encourage states to develop paid family and medical leave programs as part of its upcoming budget, and it announce the Labor Department of Labor will use $1 million in existing funds to helps state and local governments conduct feasibility studies on the issue.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday evening, Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Council of Economic Advisers member Betsey Stevenson argued that the expansion of paid leave would improve worker productivity and make U.S. businesses more competitive.
"The fact is this is not a partisan issue. It’s a family issue, and it’s an economic issue," said Jarrett, who outlined the plan in an article on the LinkedIn network. "Adopting policies that are good for working families is both good for business and good for workers
Obama will also sign a presidential memorandum granting federal employees six weeks paid sick leave after the birth of a child and six additional weeks of unpaid administrative leave, Jarrett said, adding that Obama would call on cities and states to adopt similar measures.
The president will outline a new plan to help states create paid leave programs, and provide new funding through the Department of Labor for feasibility studies that will help other states and municipalities figure out the best way to implement programs of their own, Jarrett said.
The president will include $2.2 billion in mandatory funding in his budget to help develop leave programs on the state level, officials said.
Jarrett noted that 43 million private sector workers in the United States are without any form of paid sick leave. "Not a single day," she said.
Stevenson said several studies suggest paid sick and parental leave had improved workplaces across the country without harming these firms' economic output. Connecticut adopted a paid leave policy two years ago; two-thirds of employers recently reported they had experienced little or no negative effects, while three-quarters of them expressed support for the policy.
California adopted a paid leave policy six years ago, Stevenson added, a move that has "helped lower income women care for and bond with their infants."
Jarrett's comments came in an article titled "Why We Think Paid Leave is a Worker's Right, Not a Privilege."
"Only three states — California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island — offer paid family and medical leave," she wrote. "The United States remains the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave."
Jarrett added, "The truth is, the success and productivity of our workers is inextricably tied to their ability to care for their families and maintain a stable life at home. More and more employers are coming to understand this. And voters get it too — from Massachusetts to Oakland, they have been showing their overwhelming bipartisan support for policies allowing workers to earn paid sick days."