House and Senate Democrats at odds over whether to cut vacation pay

Relevant Senate and House committees have disagreed over spending $ 300 billion or $ 494 billion, respectively, for the program for some time, a source familiar with the conversations said. A $ 300 billion funding level is probably enough to cover three to four weeks of leave, the source said, but not the 12 weeks proposed by President Joe Biden or House Ways and Means President Richard Neal ( D-Mass.).

Details are still in flux as Democrats continue to negotiate a leading line. But sources said there were a handful of options on offer, including reducing the duration of the benefit; cap on the amount workers bring home; the gradual introduction of the program; and giving it an expiration date.

“We have seen a strong commitment to maintain the entire program; maintain eligibility criteria that ensure the most marginalized and vulnerable people can access the program, ”said Vicki Shabo, who studies paid leave at left-wing New America. “These are two very important elements that must remain. And then there are other dials that you can turn to try and scale.

Taking these routes will inevitably reduce the reach of the program and possibly its effectiveness. But advocates say it’s better to adopt a paid time off policy – even one that’s not as comprehensive as initially envisioned – than to remove the benefits of the package altogether.

They fear that if lawmakers don’t capitalize on the momentum created by the pandemic to adopt the program now, it may never happen.

“The worst-case scenario is the status quo,” said Kathryn Rand, economist at RAND Corporation. “I know there are so many ways this can go wrong, but the worst case is with the status quo.”

Here is what can be on the policy cut block in the paid vacation plan:

Reduce the duration of benefits

Biden’s U.S. Families Plan and House Ways and Means Committee plan would provide all workers with 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for a wide variety of reasons, including illness, injury, childbirth, care, military deployment of a family member and more.

The most effective way to reduce the cost of the program would be to shorten the duration of benefits, the experts said. Indeed, it’s probably one of the only ways to save hundreds of billions of dollars in costs, and therefore the route lawmakers are most likely to follow.

Eight weeks would be the minimum time to see the benefits of a paid vacation program and realize the economic benefits the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats promise, sources familiar with Hill’s negotiations have said.

But advocates fear that less than 12 weeks will weaken the program, reducing its potential health and economic benefits. Most of the evidence used to draft the House Ways and Means text was based on the state’s paid vacation programs, which usually last at least three months.

“This is driven by data,” said director of paid time off for all, Dawn Huckelbridge. “We know there’s a reason why we think three months should be a minimum.”

On top of that, much of the broader research on how paid time off can stimulate the economy and reduce child mortality is based on 12 weeks of leave. Less than that, experts warn, and some of these financial and health benefits could be downplayed.

“I’ve been in Washington long enough to know that often the numbers are arbitrary,” said Lelaine Bigelow, vice president of social impact and congressional relations at the National Partnership for Women and Families. “But there is so much health evidence to support why we fight for 12 weeks.”

Reduce paid leave

Another option to reduce the cost of the program is to lower the monthly benefit limit. The House plan would provide the average worker with two-thirds of their usual salary on a sliding scale, capped at around $ 5,200 per month.

Senate language will likely cap that amount at $ 4,000 per month, a source familiar with the discussions said.

This would likely reduce the cost of the program by around $ 50 billion, another source said.

Implementation of the program

One of the reasons the White House justified setting its program at $ 225 billion is that the benefits would be phased over 10 years, rather than going into effect all at once like the House program. If senators wanted to lower the price of their bill, they could take a similar approach.

This could prove problematic for states and employers, however. The House bill includes language that would provide grants to states and employers with their own paid vacation programs to help them meet the federal standard. But the gradual introduction of the legislation over the decade could make it more difficult for them to come into compliance, given that they are expected to meet various standards staggered over the implementation period – and therefore, less likely to participate, said a source familiar with the discussions.

A phased implementation could also complicate things for workers, the source said. Americans struggling with illness or injury may end up delaying treatment until the next stage of the program so they can receive stronger benefits.

Finally, any phased in would mean that program funding would be heavily weighted towards last year, as that is when all the benefits would take effect. An unofficial CBO estimate put the final year of Biden’s 10-year phased-in set at around $ 90 billion alone, a source familiar with the conversations said. If so, the previous nine years should be much less robust in terms of spending.

Give the program an expiration date

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to reduce the cost of a paid vacation program would be to set an expiration date – either after the 10 years proposed by the Biden administration, or even sooner.

“Why not consider a five-year plan? Cut it in half? Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) Said in an interview. “All the ships are sailing and we got the job done. “

Temporary is not always temporary in Washington. Eliminating a benefit like paid vacation would be politically difficult, if not impossible, after a decade.

But having a fixed end date for the benefit could discourage state and employer participation, a source said, as they would put in place complex and expensive programs just to lose federal funding if and when it ends.

“For President Biden’s legacy, it’s important to make these investments long-term and not have short-term cliffs,” said Representative Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Who heads the neo centrist coalition. -democrat. “We have to make sure people have certainty.”

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