Just weeks after pushing for paid family leave during his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden announced he's proposing to throw big bucks behind the initiative by funding a new federal paid family and medical leave program—a plan that would have significant implications for employers if it comes to fruition.
Last week, Biden released a $6.8 trillion budget plan for fiscal year 2024, which contains a $325 billion commitment to a comprehensive, permanent paid family and medical leave program. The proposed program would provide workers up to 12 paid weeks off to bond with a new child, care for a family member or heal from their own serious illness. It also includes up to three days of paid bereavement leave.
"To support working parents, my budget … invests in paid family and medical leave, so we will no longer be the only major economy without national paid leave," Biden said in a speech.
Biden has called for extended support for families and paid time off over the last several weeks. At a Feb. 2 press conference marking the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Biden called for extended support for time-off benefits and announced he had signed a memorandum laying out a national program of paid family and medical leave for employees. The memo also set out how federal agencies are to lead the way with expanded paid and unpaid leave for their workers. Shortly after, during his State of the Union address on Feb. 7, Biden again reiterated his support for paid family leave, saying: "Let's also make sure working parents can afford to raise a family with sick days, paid family and medical leave, and affordable child care that will enable millions more people to go to work."
Despite Biden's pitch for a federal paid leave program, the passage of a program like the one he proposes is extremely unlikely. Republican lawmakers are expected to reject his federal budget plan. The proposed federal leave program, though, will likely result in more conversations about paid leave.
Many industry insiders and organizations have called for additional family and medical support for employees, with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) saying this week that the FMLA needs to be modernized, and "Congress should expand access to paid leave to more workers, provide flexibility to employers in program design, and increase regulatory consistency for multistate employers."
"Far too many workers do not have access to paid leave in times of illness or crisis, leaving families struggling to earn a living and care for loved ones," Emily Dickens, chief of staff and head of public affairs at SHRM, said in a statement released March 13. "SHRM is hopeful President Biden's budget, coupled with the work of Congress' new task force on paid leave, will lead to progress on this critical issue."
SHRM said it proposes a voluntary federal insurance market that "allows employers to fund paid leave benefits by tapping into pooled resources, which would increase worker access to paid leave while reducing risk to individual employers."
Employees, too, have called for enhanced leave benefits for years.
Paid leave for family and medical matters is a highly desired benefit coveted by workers. A December survey from insurance firm Unum found that paid family leave was among the top three noninsurance benefits U.S. workers most want. Another survey from online insurance broker Breeze last November found that workers would rather their employer offer paid parental leave instead of an array of other benefits, including employer-paid fitness or mental health benefits, vision insurance or student loan repayment assistance.
The U.S. is one of only a few wealthy countries in the world that does not guarantee paid leave at the national level, though some states and cities have enacted their own family and medical leave laws. Last month, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the state was rolling out a program that will allow some 10,000 state employees up to 12 weeks of fully paid parental leave benefits.
Although paid parental leave is highly desired by workers, it's not extremely common. The most recent employee benefits data from SHRM, for example, found that 33 percent of employers offered their employees some paid parental leave in 2022. That number is down from the 39 percent that offered some paid-leave time in 2020. Paid leave for adoption or foster care is even less common: 28 percent of employers offered adoption leave in 2022, while just 22 percent offered leave for foster care.
Meanwhile, just 31 percent of employers offered paid leave to care for an immediate family member in 2022, according to SHRM.