Personal Finance

Democrats manage to get 4 weeks of paid leave back into social spending bill. But it's still too early for Americans to count on

Key Points
  • Democrats and advocates for paid leave cheered on Wednesday as a proposal that would give workers four weeks' leave was reinserted into the Build Back Better bill.
  • However, the pending legislation still has a long way to go before it becomes law, and some lawmakers, namely Sen. Joe Manchin , Democrat of West Virginia, could object to the plan.
  • "It helped save my life," one West Virginia resident said of having access to paid leave, at an event on Capitol Hill this week.
Families, parents and caregivers call on Congress to include paid family and medical leave in the Build Back Better legislative package during an all-day Nov. 2, 2021 vigil in Washington, D.C.
Paul Morigi | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Democrats and advocates for paid family leave were handed a victory in the fight for a national plan on Wednesday, one day after they held a day-long press conference outside of the Capitol building to rally support for the issue.

The proposed plan for four weeks of paid leave is getting added back into the Build Back Better legislation, after it had been cut from the $1.75 trillion proposal due to some leaders' concerns about the high costs such a program would entail.

On Wednesday, Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., announced that paid leave was re-attached to the measure.

The proposal had been reduced from the 12 weeks President Joe Biden originally proposed, before it was scrapped from the bill last week, leaving advocates who had been fighting for it up in arms.

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"For far too long, American workers have had to make the impossible choice between providing for their families and caring for them," Neal said in a statement on Wednesday. "Now, because of the leadership and tireless advocacy of the people's House, meaningful paid family and medical leave will be included as part of the Build Back Better Act."

Currently, the U.S. is one of the few countries without a national paid family and medical leave program. Eligible workers can take unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Other workers may have access to paid leave through their employers or states that have enacted such programs.

However, many employees fall through the cracks, an issue that has become more obvious since the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced many workers to choose between caregiving responsibilities or their own medical care and work.

The goal of the national plan would be to make it so workers can take paid time off when needed, for reasons such as the birth or adoption of a child, caring for a sick loved one or for their own health needs.

How Democrats' social spending framework could cost $4.1 trillion
How Democrats' social spending framework could cost $4.1 trillion

The plan is aimed at providing more access for low-income and minority workers, who typically do not have access to paid time off.

The Democrats' plan would be funded through the federal government, which has been a sticking point with Republicans and some Democrats, particularly Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.

One advocate who campaigned for Democrats' paid leave plan on Tuesday, Khrista Messinger, of Charleston, West Virginia, said she also planned to meet with Manchin after the event.

"I believe I am only here today because I was lucky enough to receive paid leave, and it helped save my life," Messinger said. "It's something I believe that everyone should have."

Advocate Khrista Messinger calls on Congress to include paid family and medical leave in the ‘Build Back Better' legislative package on Nov. 2, 2021 in Washington, D.C.
Paul Morigi | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Messinger was granted paid leave when she needed to go to rehabilitation for substance abuse. Having paid leave allowed her to keep her job at her local police department while dedicating the time she needed to detox and get the treatment she needed, she said.

"In order to get clean, I needed the security of paid leave to be able to move forward in my life," Messinger said.

It remains to be seen whether paid leave advocates can sway Manchin on the issue. In response to the news that the proposal had been added back, Manchin said the issue is "very much of a challenge," according to reports.

Manchin has taken issue with the costs of the social spending proposed in the bill, when there is already nearly $29 trillion in national debt, according to a statement he released earlier this week.

Republicans support paid leave, but want to see the program supported by businesses instead of the government. Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on Tuesday to discuss their paid leave proposal and why Democrats' plans could be detrimental to the economy.

"While Democrats' one-size-fits-all socialist solution gives Washington control, the Republican approach to child care and paid leave puts families and mainstream businesses first," Republican leader of the House Ways and Means Committee Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said.

Advocates for the Democrats' plan were quick to praise the reinsertion of the plan into the Build Back Better proposal.

In a statement, Molly Day, executive director at non-profit organization Paid Leave for the United States, applauded the House leaders' move and said she hoped the Senate will follow their lead.

Last week, Paid Leave for the United States launched an ad campaign on D.C. cable to urge lawmakers to move forward on the proposal after it was nixed from the bill.

"It will take the collective efforts of our champions in Congress, the White House and our national advocacy community to take this legislation across the finish line," Day said on Wednesday.