Bills address raises, funding for IRS

The Senate has started to advance a spending bill that keeps the road clear for a 1 percent federal employee raise in January while boosting available funds for the IRS and several other agencies above levels favored by the House.

A summary of a bill that cleared a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday says the measure “does not contradict” the White House’s proposal for a raise of that size. An increase of that amount was paid in January after a three-year freeze of basic salary rates.

Under federal pay law, if no specific raise figure — including zero — is enacted by the end of a calendar year, the White House’s recommendation — typically repeated in a directive issued in late summer — is paid by default.

The House bill approved by its counterpart subcommittee last week is silent on a raise amount, although it specifies that if a raise is paid, senior political appointees would not receive it. Congressional pay would remain frozen as well, under a separate spending bill already passed by the House.

The Senate’s financial services-general government spending measure would further provide $11.5 billion for the Internal Revenue Service, a 2 percent increase above current levels, for the fiscal year starting in October. That amount “will enable the IRS to meet a growing demand for services,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), chairman of the subcommittee.

But Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said that “considering the poor track record at the IRS in targeting of conservative groups and their general lack of transparency, I think we should be looking for ways to rein them in and not giving them more license to hunt.”

The subcommittee advanced the bill by consent, but with Republicans going on the record as opposed. No members commented on the raise.

The counterpart House bill would allot just under $11 billion for the IRS — a level that the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents many IRS employees, said would further erode the agency’s ability to collect taxes and answer taxpayer questions.

Eric Yoder from the Federal Eye

Obama pushes more paid family, medical leave

California, New Jersey and Rhode Island are the only states that offer paid family and medical leave to workers, a policy that is getting a high-profile boost this week from President Obama.

The White House hosted a summit on working families on Monday to raise awareness on issues including child care, paid family leave and equal pay. In a speech, Obama called the three states that offer paid family and medical leave ones “who are setting a good example.” Such issues have emerged as key to Democrats as they seek to shore up support among women and portray Republicans as unsympathetic on issues of concern to them. Allies of Hillary Rodham Clinton told The Washington Post that the issue would be a key part of a potential 2016 presidential bid.

Part of Obama’s push includes a proposal to offer $5 million in funding to support state-level initiatives offering leave to workers to care for new babies or ailing relatives, such as those in place in the three states. (Washington state also passed a law, but it was not implemented. Also, there seems to be a state-level movement underway.)

All three fund the benefit available to workers in the public and private sector through an employee-paid tax, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. As is often the case, such state laws can serve as models not only to others, but also to the federal government. Here’s a look at what each state’s paid-leave law offers:

California. California passed the nation’s first paid-leave law in 2002, but the benefits didn’t kick in until the summer of 2004. Since then, about 1.7 million claims have been filed, 1.5 million of them from parents seeking to take time to care for new children, according to state data. Each worker can take up to six weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member. A worker gets about 55 percent of their weekly wage, with a minimum of $50 and maximum of $1,075. Researchers last year found that the state’s law boosted weekly work hours and wages of mothers of children between the ages of 1 and 3.

New Jersey. The Garden State’s benefits went into effect in 2009 and give workers up to six weeks of coverage at two-thirds their pay to care for a sick family member or bond with a new child. The maximum weekly benefit is $595, according to NCSL. A 2013 Rutgers University study found that four of five people used the benefit to bond with new children, while one in five used it to care for a seriously ill family member. It also found the program enjoyed broad support, with more than three of four people polled in August 2012 viewing it favorably. Awareness of the program, however, appeared to be low, with more than half of respondents saying they didn’t know much or anything about the program. Those most in need were also those who knew the least about the program.

Rhode Island. Rhode Island became the third state to offer paid leave at the start of this year. Workers are eligible for up to four weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or sick family member. The benefit ranges from $72 to $752 per week based on earnings and applies to all private-sector employees and public employees who opt into the program, according to NCSL.

Niraj Chokshi from GovBeat