FAMILY LEAVE: Clinton Expands Benefit for Federal Workers
President Clinton announced yesterday an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act for federal workers, and proposed a plan to compensate new parents for time off (Hall, USA Today, 5/24). Clinton directed federal agencies to allow employees up to 12 weeks of accrued sick leave to care for family members with a "serious health condition." Most federal employees may now take up to 13 days per year to do so (Cain, Washington Times, 5/24). The White House predicted that only about 0.5% of all federal workers would take advantage of the benefit, at a cost to the government of about $60 million per year. Clinton urged private business "to follow his lead," saying, "If every company ... that offers sick leave to its workers adopted the same policy we're adopting today, half of all the American work force would have this important benefit."
The president also instructed the Labor Department to draft regulations to allow states to use unemployment benefits to "permit parents of newborns or newly adopted children to stay home while drawing unemployment benefits." The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees them unpaid leave from their jobs, but Clinton "said many parents cannot afford it ... because they cannot got without a paycheck even temporarily" (Babington, Washington Post, 5/24). An administration official told the Wall Street Journal that Clinton's proposal was "prompted by requests from four states -- Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington and Vermont -- all of which are now considering legislation that would allow for the payments." The regulations would not require congressional approval (Cummings, 5/24). The New York Times reports that more than half the states are running surpluses in their unemployment insurance coffers. A classic liberal-conservative debate is likely to ensue, as Democrats want to use the reserves to fund new programs, while Republicans say the money should be returned to businesses and taxpayers (Broder, 5/24).