12 weeks of paid family leave made it into Democrats' early plan for $3.5 trillion in social spending

  • Democrats are including 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave in a draft bill.

  • They’re hashing out the $3.5 trillion spending plan, which Republicans strongly oppose.

  • Some experts say paid leave translates to higher pay for women.

  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The battle over the Democrats’ proposed $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan is just beginning, but the House Ways and Means Committee has already started to outline measures that will be included in the package.

One measure that’s in the panel’s markup of the Build Back Better Act: 12 weeks of universal paid family and medical leave. It’s a measure intended to guarantee workers with time off to raise newborn children or deal with a medical emergency.

“Later this week, the Ways and Means Committee will put an end to the idea that only some workers are worthy of ‘perks’ like paid leave, child care, and assistance in saving for retirement,” Chairman Richard E. Neal, a Massachusetts representative, said in a statement.

Democrats are hashing out the $3.5 trillion spending plan, which they will approve over what’s to be likely unanimous GOP opposition using a partisan process known as reconciliation.

Neal had introduced a plan to establish those benefits in April. Under Neal’s plan, the typical worker would see two-thirds of wages replaced, with benefits based on workers’ monthly average earnings.

“This is our historic opportunity to support working families and ensure our economy is stronger, more inclusive, and more resilient for generations to come,” Neal said of the Build Back Better Act.

According to Pew Research, the US is a notable outlier when it comes to paid parental leave: Across 41 countries, America is the only that does not mandate paid leave. The US similarly lags behind peers in paid sick leave, with no federal sick leave mandates.

In Washington state, paid leave was implemented in early 2020 – right before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country.

“We’ve been able to see that it has been helpful as a part of our economic recovery here in Washington state,” Washington state treasurer Mike Pellicciotti told Insider in April.

An analysis from think tank New America notes that paid leave may lead to higher earnings for women, healthier children, and stronger economic growth. For instance, an analysis from the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that paid leave would increase Americans’ incomes by $28.5 billion every year.

In California, which instituted paid family leave in 2002, research from the Bay Area Council found that the policy increased employment for new mothers – and that worker labor costs were actually lower when those workers took leave.

“This would bring us closer to where many of our peer countries are,” Vicki Shabo, a paid leave expert at think tank New America, previously told Insider.

Shabo said that it would “establish, for the first time, both a policy and cultural standard that says you should be able to both be a worker and a caregiver, and you should be able to provide and receive care without jeopardizing your income or your job.”

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