Examining the Need for Comprehensive National Paid Family And Medical Leave
House Oversight and Reform Committee
Chairwoman Maloney and Ranking Member Jordan, on behalf of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents approximately 150,000 federal employees across 33 federal agencies, I want to thank you for holding today’s hearing on the importance of paid family leave for American working families. As you may know, 128 countries currently provide paid and job-protected parental leave, with an average of sixteen weeks’ time off. Seventy-five percent of the Fortune 100 companies offer a paid parental leave program to new mothers. For the first time, we are close to offering a paid parental leave policy to federal employees, thanks in large part to your efforts, Madam Chair, and Chairman Smith of the House Armed Services Committee. We thank you for your efforts on this NDAA provision. This will change people’s lives for the better.
As you know Chairwoman Maloney, NTEU has worked with you since 2003 to secure paid parental leave for federal employees. When this movement began, we wanted the federal government to be a leader and model employer in providing this benefit to employees. Now, federal agencies lag far behind the private sector, and are finding it increasingly difficult to attract younger workers, who see this benefit as a crucial part of their compensation. The NDAA provision providing paid parental leave is an incredible step forward, but many employees also struggle to care for sick parents or other family members who are critically ill. I hope that we can continue to work together to build on the momentum of this new paid parental leave and expand it to provide paid family leave that is available for all situations covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act.
I want to share with you some stories that illustrate how necessary paid family leave is to federal employees. Earlier this year, we put out a message to our members asking how their life might be changed if they were granted 12 weeks of paid family leave. In just hours, we had received over 250 heartbreaking stories. Let me share some of them with you.
We heard from a federal employee and single parent whose daughter was rushed to the hospital with an urgent heart condition that required emergency surgery and extensive rehabilitation and recovery: “With 12 weeks of paid leave to care for my minor child I would have been able to reduce the stress of leave without pay charges, reduction in pay, repaying borrowed leave and repaying a cash debt owed. I would have reduced my financial burden and the mental stress it caused. This would have allowed me to focus solely on the health and recovery of my daughter.”
We heard from a federal employee who is taking care of her elderly, widowed mother with Alzheimer’s: “She has multiple doctor appointments and recurring medical issues, so I have used almost all of my annual and sick leave. I just checked the other day, and I’m down to 5.5 hours of sick leave. After 29 years of accumulating sick leave, that’s all I have left. My only other option is FMLA, but that is unpaid. Right now I’m paying for adult day care and I’m paying another aide to help out, and I cannot afford to take unpaid leave. That is just not an option. I’ve already used up my savings and I’m trying to get out of debt. Having 12 weeks of paid leave would be life-changing for me and for many of my coworkers. Taking care of an elderly parent shouldn’t be this hard. I shouldn’t have to choose between helping my mom and earning a paycheck.”
We heard from a federal employee whose mother died of cancer: “Paid leave would have allowed me to stay home to care for my ailing mom. Instead, I was forced to send her off to Adult Day Care to sit uncomfortable in a chair until I could get her after work. She has since passed on, but this weighs on my heart almost daily.”
We heard from a federal employee whose father, a Vietnam veteran, was in a hospice facility eight hours from her home: “I had already used up all of my sick and annual leave caring for my father. Unpaid leave was not an option for me, so I drove, back and forth, on weekends, and it was very expensive. Having paid leave would have allowed me to be there with him in his final days without worrying about losing income and the extra expenses that I incurred for the travel every weekend. Paid family leave would have allowed me to spend some consistent time with him without feeling like I was always leaving him alone, never knowing if this will be the last time I see him.” Her father died the day before she shared this with us. She was not able to get to the facility in time to be with him in his last hours.
These stories are just a small sample of the hundreds we received from our members that illustrate why it is so important that the government provide its employees with this benefit. In addition to providing leave for a new child, paid family leave could be used to care for the employee’s spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition. It could be used to care for the employee’s own serious health condition. And it could be used if an urgent need arises because the employee’s spouse, child or parent is on covered active duty in the Armed Forces.
Paid family leave would help our federal government recruit and retain dedicated and talented workers. Paid family leave has been shown to lead to increased productivity, better morale and reduced absenteeism. Providing paid family leave to federal employees is a win-win for the government — employees would be allowed time to take care of themselves or a family member with a serious health condition, and agencies would not have to cover the costs of recruiting and training new employees and would be better able to compete with the private sector for talented individuals. We could save millions in turnover costs with a paid family leave policy. We encourage you join us in keeping up the fight to secure this important policy.