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Paid leave likely cut from Democrats’ spending package

October 28, 2021, 12:47 AM UTC

As Democrats move forward with negotiations for Biden’s upcoming spending package, it’s looking unlikely that provisions that would extend Americans’ access to paid family and medical leave will be enacted

With continued opposition from Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), progressives’ latest plan to include just four weeks of paid leave in the latest framework of the reconciliation plan have seemingly failed. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have consistently pushed for a smaller spending package, forcing Democrats to downsize, retool and even cut out completely individual proposed programs to lower the overall price tag. With only a slim majority in the House and Senate and no Republican support for Biden’s agenda, Democrat leaders need every Democrat on board in order to pass this legislative package. 

Democrats had originally earmarked $500 billion to fund 12 weeks of paid leave, but last week whittled down the proposal to just four weeks as the total package cost shrank from $3.5 trillion over 10 years to under $2 trillion. 

Over the weekend, Politico reported that even the four-week paid-leave compromise—which is still an outlier compared to other countries, 185 of which offer more than four weeks of maternity leave—was in trouble. The four-week compromise would have cost $100 billion and was set to expire after three or four years. 

Throughout the week Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has reportedly set up talks with Manchin to sell the idea of paid leave, but those efforts have reportedly come to naught. “Until the bill is printed, I will continue working to include paid leave in the Build Back Better plan,” Gillibrand said in a statement Wednesday evening. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) echoed that sentiment, saying in a letter to colleagues Wednesday: “We are still fighting for a paid family and medical leave provision.” Despite ongoing negotiations, Pelosi said she has directed the House Rules Committee to hold a hearing Thursday to advance the spending package.

Currently nine states and D.C. have passed paid leave programs and are at various stages of implementation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. As of March 2020, 78% of American workers had some kind of access to paid sick leave, but often this coverage is minimal. Even fewer, 19%, have defined paid family leave benefits through their employer. 

Americans have access to unpaid leave through the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, but 44% don’t qualify because they’re employed with smaller companies, only work part-time, or haven’t been with their employer long enough.

Although the Biden administration officials have said they may try to push through some of the Build Back Better agenda using executive action, a spokeswoman for the National Women’s Law Center told Fortune on Wednesday that an expansion of paid leave for private employees is unlikely to occur using that route. 

“The scope of any executive action expanding paid leave is likely limited to policies for federal government employees,” says spokeswoman Gillian Branstetter. “But that is still a huge number of working families and helps lead by example—particularly in a very competitive job market.”

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