After two years of hard work by the DC Paid Family Leave Campaign — a campaign comprising hundreds of coalition partners and thousands of individual supporters and community leaders — the DC Council passed the Universal Paid Leave Act (UPLA) in December of 2016.
The District’s paid leave law establishes an insurance program to provide 8 weeks of parental leave for new parents, 6 weeks of family leave to care for an ill relative, and 2 weeks of personal medical leave to care for your own illness. This leave will be available to all people working in DC’s private and non-profit sectors, and up to 90% of a worker’s wages will be covered for those with lower incomes.
This was an exciting victory, but soon after the legislation became law, the business lobby attempted to persuade the DC Council to repeal and replace UPLA with a weaker program that would hurt employees and small business. After a year of advocacy and negotiations, the Campaign persevered once again: DC Council Chairman Mendelson announced in February 2018 that there will be no harmful amendments to UPLA at this time.
Below are some questions and answers about the current status of the Campaign and how you can help make sure UPLA is implemented efficiently and effectively!
Q: What is happening with the startup and implementation of DC’s paid leave insurance program?
A: As of now, there are no current legislative attacks on the Universal Paid Leave Act. When UPLA was passed, it built in a three year process to fully implement the law. This program startup time is needed to staff an Office of Paid Family Leave, develop regulations to administer the law, build out IT systems to process leave claims, and collect insurance contributions for the paid leave fund.
By law, DC will begin collecting these contributions from District businesses in July 2019; paid leave benefits will subsequently be available to workers beginning July 2020. Before any IT can be built or contributions can be collected, the Administration — specifically DC’s Department of Employment Services (DOES) which will run the Office of Paid Family Leave — must develop regulations that will provide details about the day to day operations of UPLA.
Q: What are regulations? Why are they needed for this law, and why do they matter?
A: Regulations (sometimes called rules) help fill in the gaps of the statute to guide the administration and the public understand how the program will operate in practice. UPLA regulations can help clarify what paperwork (medical, proof of identity or family relations, etc) is required when applying for benefits, the payment collection schedule, how the program will handle intermittent leave needs, and many more topics.
Hammering out these details is incredibly important to ensure that the program is as clear and inclusive as possible for District workers and businesses alike. The rulemaking process involves DOES issuing proposed (“draft”) regulations, a 30-day period for public comments to provide feedback, DOES issuing final regulations, and Council approval of the final regulations.
Q: What is the “Comment Period,” and why does it matter that the public weighs in?
A: This is an opportunity for the public to give DOES and the DC Council feedback on the definitions and processes that will govern the paid leave program. We need to provide feedback not only on areas that could use improvement but also those topics that the Administration got right in the proposed regulations. DOES needs to hear from us about what will work well, so that powerful corporate interests don’t undermine those provisions in ways that prevent workers from using paid leave when a family member needs care.
The proposed regulations were posted in the DC Register on April 6, 2018, and the public now has a 30-day comment period to weigh in — we urge all individuals and organizations interested in submitting comments do so by Friday, May 4, 2018.
Q: How can you help and take action right now?
A: The PFL Campaign will prepare templates for public comments and help develop personalized comments for organizations, businesses, and experts to submit technical feedback to DOES. If your organization or business would like to submit personalized comments, the Campaign is excited to help make that happen in a way that matches your expertise and concerns — email Joanna@DCPaidFamilyLeave.org to take part in this important effort.
If you are a DC resident or worker interested in submitting a public comment, keep your eyes on your email for more information about comments; sign up here to join the campaign’s email list operated by Jews United for Justice (enter your contact information and check the “DC Paid Family Leave Campaign” box).