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Top House Democrat unveils plan to establish universal paid family and medical leave programs

Richard Neal
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, July 24, 2020, on the extension of federal unemployment benefits.

Top House Democrat Richard Neal introduced a plan for universal paid sick and medical leave on Tuesday.
The typical worker would get around two-thirds of their past wages replaced.
Progressives are urging Biden to prioritize paid leave programs as part of his latest economic plan.
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Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced a plan on Tuesday aimed at outlining major investments for American families.

The proposal – known as the "Building the Economy for Families Act" – would set up 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for every worker in the US, calculating benefits based on average monthly earnings.

The typical worker would get two-thirds of their wages replaced. For example, the measure covers 85% of a worker's earnings below $1,257. Higher-paid workers are set at lower wage replacement rates.

"For our economy to fully recover from this pandemic, we must finally acknowledge that workers have families, and caregiving responsibilities are real," Neal said in a statement. "By acting on this plan, we will rebuild our society to be better and stronger than ever before."

Eligible Americans are eligible if they meet the standards of the Family and Medical Leave Act to get 60 days a year in paid leave, though it cannot run longer than 20 days a month. It would also create a new online portal for parents to learn about available childcare providers, and establishes a new refundable payroll tax credit of up to $5,000 for wages paid by some providers.

Benefits would take effect at the start of 2023, an apparent recognition of the difficulties of setting up a robust paid leave initiative. Those would be distributed through largely through the Treasury Department. It also makes permanent a temporary stimulus expansion of the child tax credit, a top Democratic priority.

Currently, the US stands alone among developed nations for not federally mandating a paid sick leave program. Such a measure was scrapped as part of President Joe Biden's stimulus. A vast collection of progressive groups as well as 17 state treasurers are now urging Biden, along with Congress, to approve comprehensive leave programs.

The pandemic underscored the lack of affordable childcare as rising costs collided with the shuttering of daycare centers, disproportionately impacting women and compelling many to quit their jobs.

A recent report from the National Women's Law Center and the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University said 2.3 million women dropped out of the workforce due to the crisis, compared to 1.8 million men.

Neal's measure comes as Biden prepares to unveil the second part of his infrastructure plan, largely directed at ratcheting up government spending on families as a product of childcare and education initiatives. The Washington Post reported it will contain $225 billion for child care funding and $200 billion to establish universal Pre-K.

The latest proposal will be funded with tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, including a new capital gains tax on the top 0.3%.

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