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August 16, 2016

How would paid family leave benefit Pennsylvania workers?

Thanks to a federal grant, the state will try to find out

Only 12 percent of American workers in the private sector have access to paid family leave through their employers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, a fact that forces many to make the choice between caring for a sick loved one or a newborn child, or earning their paycheck.

How would workers benefit if they received guaranteed assistance in these situations? Thanks to a federal grant, Pennsylvania hopes to find out.

The state’s Department of Labor & Industry announced in August it's been awarded $250,000 from the DOL to study paid family leave models and programs and how they would help Pennsylvania workers. About 2.9 million state workers would benefit from a universal program, L&I Secretary Kathy Manderino estimated.

The push for paid family leave across the country has picked up steam recently. The United States is the only industrialized nation not to offer a universal program for new parents or caregivers.

Its proponents are on both sides of the aisle, too. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has proposed a plan that would guarantee workers up to 12 weeks of paid family leave.

But The Atlantic recently reported that many Conservatives are on board for creating federal programs to assist as well. Republican nominee Donald Trump has suggested a possible tax deduction for child care, while the GOP-backed research group the American Action Group has laid out a plan for a benefit of $3,500 for 12 weeks of leave for workers making less than $28,000.

That plan is seen as a less expensive option to the Democrat-proposed Family Act, a bill that would allow workers to collect $4,000 or two-thirds of their income for 12 weeks while caring for a child or assisting a family member with a serious illness.

Yet surely, any proposal to create what fits into the definition of an "entitlement" program will face some blowback, particularly concerning how it will impact small businesses. The Pennsylvania chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business told the Reading Eagle it conducted its own study on paid family leave and estimated mandating it would cut 8,000 jobs in year one of the program.

While Manderino told Pittsburgh's NPR affiliate she's not sure how the data collected in the Pennsylvania study will be utilized, she has made her thoughts on paid family leave clear.

“Forcing these adults to make a choice between caring for a seriously ill loved one or losing their paycheck, and possibly their job, is unconscionable," she said in a statement. "It is a moral imperative that we explore options to provide reasonable paid family leave to hardworking Pennsylvanians.”

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