Friday, June 12, 2009

Rep. Edolphus Towns and Rep. Carolyn Maloney: Providing Parental Leave Benefits Invests in Federal Working Families

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People are often surprised to learn that the federal government does not provide paid parental leave to its more than 1.8 million hard-working employees. Currently, when federal workers become new parents they are often forced to make the tough decision between staying home to care for their children without pay or return to work early because they cannot afford to take the time off. We believe this is a choice federal workers should not have to make.

As the nation's largest employer, the federal government must be a leader in implementing family-friendly workplace policies. The pro-family "Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act" (H.R. 626), which we have sponsored for many years and passed the House of Representatives yesterday by a 258-154 vote, would eliminate this outdated federal workforce policy and better support working families during this critical time in their child's life.

The Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act provides four weeks of paid leave following the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child. For the 116,218 federal employees who reside in New York State, being forced to choose between getting a paycheck and caring for their new child is one of the hardest choices they will be forced to make during their careers. Moreover, paid parental leave allows families the opportunity to participate during those critical early moments in their child's life. Children whose parents are provided with paid leave are more likely to have regular check-ups, receive immunizations, and engage in the parent-child bonding that is crucial to early childhood development.

But the joyous occasion of a new child can bring undue stress when a family is faced with reduced or no income at all. Today, most families no longer have a stay-at-home parent to care for a new child. Long before the economic crisis hit, few families could afford to go without pay for any length of time. Now, with massive job losses in New York City and across the nation, many formerly dual-income families are struggling to pay the bills on a single salary. On average, new parents spend $11,000 in added expenses in the year a child is born. Paid leave ensures that new families' incomes and spending remain steady and continue to drive economic growth, which we sorely need right now.

Paid parental leave is also a worthwhile investment for the federal government. Family-friendly policies boost employee morale and productivity and in turn, reduce turnover and eliminate the cost to taxpayers of hiring and training a new employee. Consider the math. It costs 20 percent of an employee's salary to hire and train a new worker, compared to just eight percent of an employee's salary to provide a skilled, experienced employee with four weeks of paid parental leave. It's a win-win for the federal workforce and the American taxpayer.

The United States has fallen behind other industrialized nations and the private sector in providing paid leave. We are the only industrialized nation whose national government workforce does not receive paid parental leave. An astonishing 168 countries are ahead of the United States in setting family friendly workplace policies. In addition, 75 of the Fortune 100 companies already employ workplace policies that invest in employees and their children. It is well past time for the United States to set workplace policies that make it competitive with the private sector--and get us in step with the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to supporting its federal workforce.

We are proud that the House took strong action this week to support federal working families. Now, with the support of Senator Jim Webb, D-VA, who has introduced companion legislation in the Senate (S.354), we hope to see swift action on this bill and get it to the President Obama's desk for a signature in the coming months.

Congressman Towns (D-NY) is Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and is an original cosponsor of H.R. 626; Congresswoman Maloney (D-NY), the author of H.R. 626, is Chair of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.