Paid family leave means healthier families and a stronger workforce: my written statement to the DC Council

October 10, 2017

In December, the Council took a significant step toward equipping parents employed in the District with the legal right to receive paid family leave by passing the Universal Paid Family Leave Act (“the Act”). Today, the DC Council will hold a public hearing on Paid Leave legislation that threatens to take that right from DC residents, effectively putting special interests before the needs of DC working families. Any and every delay in implementation of current law harms the people who need access to paid family leave most.

On December 4, 2016, I became the proud mother to my daughter, Julia Justicia Hunter. My husband, Ian, and I were fortunate to receive world-class prenatal and maternal care through highly-rated providers in the District, all covered by our employer-provided health benefits. Moreover, I received 12 weeks of paid family leave through my employer that afforded me financial security in the precious few months following birth. My husband was lucky to receive six weeks of paid family leave through his employer.

While we were provided considerable economic relief through our employers, the truth is that many parents need even more than what we received. More services, more help, more time. Recovering from labor is physically and emotionally draining. Establishing and maintaining breastfeeding takes a tremendous amount of work, often necessitating professional help and support. And post-partum anxiety and bouts of depression often pose serious setbacks to recovery and take even greater support from families, friends, and providers to overcome.

I appreciate how much more difficult these challenges are for the thousands of new moms in the District who do not have the benefits my family enjoyed. Without paid, job-protected leave guaranteed to them, they can’t afford to spend time with their infants or loved ones.  They don’t have the luxury of recovering, physically and emotionally, before heading back to work. They must scramble for childcare in a city already experiencing a shortage in affordable, quality day care options.  Why would we, as a city, want to place low-income families at an even further disadvantage than they already are?

That is why I am writing to you today. The benefits of universal paid family leave are many. For new parents, universal paid family leave increases early childhood checkups and immunizations; decreases maternal depression and anxiety, which stands to impact an infant’s development and bonding; and creases breastfeeding which can stimulate neurological and psychological development.

Put simply, it’s not only compassionate, it’s good health and economic policy.

Many pediatricians contend that the current law hasn’t gone far enough in ensuring new parents and their infants are on the path to success, as a minimum of 12 weeks (and in some instances 6-9 months) of paid family leave ought to be mandated. As a result, DC has a real opportunity to not only defend the 2016 law, but enhance it.

Today, you will hear testimony from stakeholders contending that the 0.62% payroll tax on employers is onerous and burdensome. You’ll hear how the current law is bad for business, that it squeezes small businesses operating within already-thin margins. I urge you to reflect on these concerns in light of the Council’s Budget Office’s own findings, showing that the Act will not harm the upward trajectory of DC’s economy.  Indeed, the economic and health benefits to DC’s working families are enormous. And healthier families will ensure DC businesses will have healthier employees – today and for years into the future.

I urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to stand up for DC’s working families. We are counting on you.