House passes paid leave for some new parents

Federal employees would get four weeks of time off after birth or adoption.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Published June 5, 2009 7:06PM (EDT)

Newborns rejoice! Yesterday, the House approved a bill that would offer federal employees four weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. The vote went down mostly along party lines, and if it clears the Senate, President Obama is expected to sign it into law.

"Today we show that this Congress doesn't just talk about family values -- it values families," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the bill's lead sponsor, according to the Washington Post. "As more families are relying on just one paycheck in these times, we can't afford not to help them in this way."

Some Republicans didn't see it that way. "Maybe we just ought to let federal employees take 16 years off," said Republican Pete Sessions of Texas, according to National Public Radio. "Hello! Hello! Wake up, Washington! We're in a recession, and somebody is going to have to pay for this," citing the bill's cost of about $100 million over five years. Critics further charged that the bill sends a bad message since it increases federal employees' benefits at a time when many American employees are having their benefits cut.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, most U.S. workers can take up to 12 weeks off for the birth or adoption of a child, but employers don't have to pay them during any of that period.

In the military, mothers already get six weeks paid time off to care for a new child, and fathers get 10 days. Yet, the United States is one of only four countries that does not offer paid leave more broadly to new mothers, the others being Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and Lesotho, according to Moms Rising. For a chart showing parental leave policies by country, click here.

The federal government is the United States' largest employer, and supporters of the bill are hopeful that it's the first step toward future legislation that would extend the leave to employees in private companies, too.

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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