DC Democrats Spar Over ‘Extravagant’ Paid Family Leave Proposal

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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The mayor of Washington D.C. is at odds with the Democratic city council over a proposal to create a $400 million paid family leave program.

The D.C. Council is pushing to pass a contentious paid family leave bill that would be the most “extravagant” program offered anywhere in the country. The price tag is estimated at $400 million, but details of the bill are shrouded in mystery, which is sparking heavy criticism from Mayor Muriel Bowser. Bowser argues the District needs to be spending money on key needs like infrastructure repairs, and is chiding Council Chairman Phil Mendelson for being so secretive, reports The Washington Post.

Mendelson, who is spearheading the legislation, wants to bring it forward for a vote by the end of November. The editorial board of The Washington Post wrote Sunday that the effort seems aimed at bolstering the progressive credentials of council members and is being rushed.

“It’s a huge expenditure that has so many moving parts that has changed so much,” Bowser said last week at a breakfast with D.C. leaders. “What is the secrecy around it? It puts all of us, I think, in a very bad position come time to vote on a $400 million [piece of legislation].”

Under the original proposal, called the Universal Paid Leave Act, workers would be allowed 16 weeks of paid leave to deal with medical conditions, child birth, caring for sick loved ones or to recover from an illness. Eligible employees would be given 100 percent of weekly wages up to $1,000 and 50 percent of wages over that level.

The proposal would be paid for by a 1 percent increase in the payroll tax; independent research and analysis from the city’s chief financial officer concluded it will not cover the costs.

Mendelson proposed a scaled-back version in February that reduces leave to 12 weeks and reimburses employees 90 percent of wages up to twice the minimum wage with maximum weekly compensation at $1,500 an individual. Under this plan, individuals making up to $118,00 a year would still be eligible to receive 66 percent of their salary for 12 weeks of leave.

Mendelson has hinted that the final proposal will be under 12 weeks, but details remain scant. The council chair will unveil the proposal to the city’s chief financial officer for review Tuesday but the public and mayor will not see a copy until it is voted on in the council.

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