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Biden's trimmed paid leave plan lags rest of world by months

Chris Marr and Mary Biekert, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

The latest U.S. proposal is estimated to cost $100 billion, subject to further negotiations. Part of the cost reduction comes through giving the program a sunset date, rather than making it permanent — a point that advocates are still fighting in the negotiation process.

“A permanent four-week federal program that supports parental, caregiving and personal medical leave would be a win for working people and families everywhere; however, a temporary paid leave program is insufficient,” Molly Day, executive director of Paid Leave for the U.S., said in an email. “It is imperative that the final bill meets the desperate needs of working families with a permanent federal framework.”

Paid leave supporters and their allies in Congress have been mulling options for weeks on how to lower the cost to avoid the possibility of paid leave being cut entirely from the broader social spending plan.

Of the nine U.S. states plus the District of Columbia with their own paid family and medical leave programs, many offer 12 weeks annually while a few offer six or eight weeks, according to data compiled by the advocacy group A Better Balance. Only Rhode Island’s plan goes as low as four weeks annually for family caregiving, and that benefit is set to increase to six weeks when the program is fully implemented in 2023.

Biden acknowledged a preference for more generous benefits in his town hall remarks Thursday, but indicated the need to lower the price tag to be able to pass the legislation.


“Yeah, it is down to four weeks,” the president said, according to a White House transcript of the event. “And the reason it’s down to four weeks is I can’t get 12 weeks.”

Any amount of leave is better than none, said Maya Rossin-Slater, associate professor of health policy at the Stanford University School of Medicine. But she added that many of the improved health outcomes for newborn babies and their mothers might not be achieved through a benefit as short as four weeks.

“Some of the health benefits of leave are clearly occurring at higher durations,” she said, citing on-time immunizations and increases in breastfeeding as examples.

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