- The bottom line: The bill puts aside about $200 billion to provide four weeks of paid family and medical leave starting in 2024.
- What critics say: While the idea has broad support among Democrats, it has troubled Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who has questioned its solvency, raised the prospects for fraud and called on lawmakers to pursue the idea through bipartisan legislation.
- Senate prognosis: It is an uphill battle in a chamber where the party cannot move any bill without Manchin’s vote, and it could be stripped from the package even after it is approved in the House.
The policy itself aims to remedy what Democrats say is a significant gap in the federal safety net. The United States pretty much stands alone among major countries in providing zero weeks of paid benefits to new parents, leaving families at the mercy of their states and individual employers.
The result is a national patchwork that has had the greatest effects on low-income laborers, who are the least likely to receive any paid leave in their workplace. The troubles only have become more pronounced during the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced parents in particular to choose between working or caring for their children who were out of school.
The law includes several key points.
New paid leave starting in 2024: The four weeks of leave would apply to full-time and part-time workers, with money paid out either through a new federal benefit or through existing state or employer-based plans, which in turn would be reimbursed by the federal government. The size of the benefit itself would be keyed to a worker’s past earnings and annual income.
Widely applicable aid: The program would cover not only new parents, who need to take time off to care for newborns, but a broader array of reasons that Americans might need to be out of work. That includes, for instance, tending to a personal or family health issue.
Less than what they sought: For months, Democrats led by Biden had proposed a much more expansive paid leave program, offering generous benefits for up to 12 weeks. Unlike the current proposal, lawmakers’ original plan — included as part of the party’s initial $3.5 trillion bill — also would have been authorized permanently as opposed to only the next few years.
Still may get nothing at all: At one point, House Democrats had to strip paid leave entirely from their measure. The move came in response to criticism from Manchin, who publicly raised concerns about the solvency of a new social benefit and privately expressed fears it could result in fraud.