10 Things To Know About Paid Family and Medical Leave in BBB

By Emily Andrews and Nat Baldino

The Build Back Better Act is a historic investment in children, women, families, people with low incomes, and communities of color. This legislation includes a new federal guarantee to paid family and medical leave for all workers that will bolster the economic security of families and strengthen the nation’s overall economy.  

Here are the top 10 things you need to know about this new federal benefit.

1. This is a historic victory. When the Build Back Better Act becomes law, the United States will join the ranks of every other wealthy country in offering guaranteed paid family and medical leave. We are currently the only high-wealth country without a paid leave guarantee. The Build Back Better Act will mark the first time Congress has enacted a comprehensive paid leave program for private-sector workers.   

2. All workers are covered – not just parents. Universal paid leave is accessible to childless adults, young adults, and parents alike by covering multiple reasons for leave-taking. Workers will be able to take leave to welcome a new child by birth, adoption, or foster care; to recover from a serious illness; or to care for a seriously ill family member. This guarantee of paid family and medical leave means that no one will have to choose between their paycheck and caring for a loved one or between their jobs and their own health.  

3. The definition of family is broad. Universal paid leave defines a family member as a spouse, domestic partner, parent, guardian, child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, in-law, and any other association by blood or affinity that is equivalent to a family relationship. This definition expands on the Family Medical and Leave Act of 1993, recognizing the diversity of family structures and increasing equity for families of color, who are more likely to live in multigenerational homes.  

4. Workers with the lowest incomes would receive the greatest benefits. This program will implement a progressive wage replacement structure that adjusts for a worker’s income. Progressive wage replacement ensures workers in jobs paying low wages receive the highest rates of wage replacement and scales down as workers earn more. Put into practice, workers earning $15,000 per year ($288 per week) would receive 90 percent of their wages while on leave ($260 per week). Workers earning the median national income of approximately $35,000 per year ($673 per week) would receive 80 percent of their weekly earnings (or $538 per week). Workers earning above $1,192 per week would receive $814 per week, regardless of their income. Importantly, the amount of the benefit will be adjusted annually to account for changes in the labor market.  

5. Universal paid leave addresses racial and economic inequities. Fewer than 10 percent of workers in jobs paying low wages —disproportionately women and workers of color— currently have access to paid family leave. The universal paid leave provision in the Build Back Better Act provides a guarantee to all workers, including workers in low-wage industries where paid leave is extremely rare.  

6. Universal paid leave will be provided starting January 1, 2024. The deferred start date will allow for the necessary time to stand up an effective and efficient program. Starting in 2022, funds will be available to begin informing and educating the public about this new benefit. 

7. All types of employment are covered. All workers in all types of jobs will be eligible for paid family and medical leave. This includes direct employees, independent contractors, private and public sector employees, or workers receiving unemployment benefits. To be eligible for the benefit in 2024, an individual must have earned at least $2,000 in the last two years prior to filing for benefits and have income in the four-month period prior to taking leave.  

8. Workers will be guaranteed four weeks of paid leave. Workers can take paid leave for up to four weeks annually for any combination of covered purposes. For the majority of workers, this represents the first time they will have access to any form of paid family and medical leave.  

9. Federal benefits will support – but not supplant – more robust state or employer plans. Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia have passed or implemented paid family and medical leave programs. In addition, some employers provide paid leave to their employees. The federal paid family and medical leave benefit will provide partial reimbursements to states and employers that provide paid leave. Depending on where employees live and work, they will either apply for benefits federally through the Social Security Administration (which will administer the federal program), locally through their state program, or through their employer-provided program.  

10. We must secure this win. While the inclusion of paid family and medical leave in the Build Back Better Act represents a historic moment for workers and families, this legislation must still pass in both the House and Senate. Congress must act swiftly to seize this once-in-a generation opportunity and pass the Build Back Better Act that includes universal paid family and medical leave.  

Universal paid family and medical leave will be transformative for the economic security of millions of workers, particularly workers earning low wages and workers of color. We applaud the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress for the inclusion of a paid leave policy that will increase racial, gender, and economic equity while building a more just and humane economy.