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For all of its challenges, the Covid-19 pandemic has proven to have rightfully accelerated discussion and possible action on a few public policy issues, one of those is paid leave. Efforts to tackle paid leave have provided a prime bipartisan opportunity for lawmakers, especially following the current Administration’s efforts to include paid leave in their Build Back Better (BBB) framework, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and in both Chambers, have rightfully so, rolled up their sleeves to attempt to tackle this challenging issue.

Following a strong push for paid leave in the 117th Congress, a group of bipartisan lawmakers in the House, led by Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Stephanie Bice (R-OK), formed a working group to study options for making working and caregiving more compatible, the effects of paid family leave on maternal health and to learn from states programs what has been successful for businesses and the financial security of working caregivers. Other group members include Reps. Colin Allred (D-Texas), Julia Letlow (R-La.), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa) and Haley Stevens (D-Mich.).

I recently had the opportunity to interview Representatives Bice and Houlahan on the issues facing paid leave legislation in Congress and how the bipartisan working group on paid leave is working to drive the conversation forward. Below is a summary of our conversation.

Rhett Buttle: Paid leave has consistently received support and attention on the Hill, yet Congress has struggled to reach consensus on the role the federal government should play in helping to facilitate paid leave. Why do you think that is?

Rep. Bice & Rep. Houlahan: Part of the reason consensus has been a challenge is the misrepresentation that this issue isn’t a bipartisan one. Paid family leave received attention under both the previous administration and the current administration, and that is not always mentioned as part of this conversation. This reiterates the notion that solutions from both sides of the aisle have been proposed, which we hope to examine and enhance. A consensus on the federal government’s role in facilitating paid leave can be difficult to come to; however, many states across the country have implemented paid leave initiatives that benefit both the employee and employer. We will examine some of those successful paid leave state laws on a national level. With the addition of new members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, we are hopeful that paid family leave once again receives the attention it deserves.

Rhett Buttle: Since the announcement of the bipartisan working group on paid leave in December, many groups have expressed their support for some kind of federal paid leave solution. Do you think the 118th Congress is any closer to achieving a federal solution for workers and employers as it relates to paid leave than the previous Congress?


Rep. Bice & Rep. Houlahan: We have had tremendous support from groups across the spectrum and with the launch of the first working group in the House of Representatives dedicated to this issue, including members, Rep. Miller Meeks (R-IA), Rep. Stevens (D-MI), Rep. Letlow (R-LA), and Rep. Allred (D-TX), it will serve as a reminder for our colleagues that this is a pressing bipartisan issue with a group actively working to bring attention to it. With this momentum we can hopefully garner support for the group’s work, which will offer solutions that both Republicans and Democrats would support. We believe this group has a unique ability to bring together important voices on both sides of the aisle and are hopeful for what is ahead. Most importantly we remain committed to strong bipartisanship cooperation this Congress.

Rhett Buttle: What are the goals of the working group in the coming year? How will the working group define success?

Rep. Bice & Rep. Houlahan: Paid family leave is a complex issue. Over the next year, we plan to look at what has been successful and what hasn’t worked. We want to examine ways to bridge the gap between Americans with generous leave options and those with no options, as well as how we can provide paid family leave on the federal level to eliminate the current patchwork access that many Americans must navigate. We will explore options including but not limited to policies that have been implemented at the state level, tax incentives for businesses as well as individuals, and potential engagement from insurance companies.

Rhett Buttle: We know that many small business owners view their employees like family and want to be able to provide paid leave benefits to their workers. Yet they face many obstacles including affordability, complexity of administration and backfilling. What is the working group’s approach to addressing these challenges in particular?

Rep. Bice & Rep. Houlahan: Only 23% of workers have access to paid family leave, so a priority for our working group is finding a solution which is not only pro-business but also pro-family to ensure more people have access to paid leave. We have heard from numerous companies throughout Oklahoma’s Fifth Congressional District and Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional District that are facing workforce shortages, especially with women. We plan to engage stakeholders and business owners, both large and small businesses, throughout this process. It’s important we hear from every voice involved in this issue to see what consensus we can achieve.

Since its inception, the working group has received a positive response from across the small business community, demonstrating the importance of a paid leave solution for small business owners and entrepreneurs. In response to the working group’s launch, several small business organizations representing diverse and women owned businesses and online marketplaces signed a letter in support of the goals of the working group and are eager to collaborate with the working group towards a solution: “We welcome the launch of the House bipartisan paid leave working group. We support the objectives of the working group to identify and explore paid leave policy solutions that help support business owners and working families…”It’s crucial that the voice of small business – including the self-employed and microbusiness – is reflected in this policy discussion.”

Paid leave is a critical workforce and competitiveness issue. The ability to offer benefits helps small businesses remain competitive with larger firms with more resources. Furthermore, it’s important that the needs of small businesses and the self-employed are reflected in policy discussions regarding paid leave, and that they have a seat at the decision making table.


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