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A Staggered Rollout Would Help Ensure Paid Family Leave’s Success

Currently, Congressional Democrats are considering a paid family leave (PFL) program in the Build Back Better Act that would provide access to a leave benefit for parental, family caregiving, and medical needs, as well as needs related to a loved one’s military deployment. The current proposal would require the Treasury Department to implement the program no earlier than July 2023.

To ensure a successful launch of the program as well as promote long-term durability, we propose that Congress direct the Treasury Department to stagger implementation of the program. Specifically, rather than attempting to start providing all benefits in July 2023, as is currently planned, we propose that Treasury launch the parental leave benefit in October 2022 followed by the other leave benefits in July 2024.

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Getting PFL Up and Running: A Big Hurdle

Standing up a comprehensive PFL program by July 2023 would be a tall order. States have typically taken longer than 18 months to launch comparable programs. Washington state, for example, took 30 months to implement a similar comprehensive PFL program. Further complicating the proposed rollout, the Treasury Department does not typically oversee benefit programs and is not currently equipped to administer a new program that will directly process unique claims. The department would need to hire and train staff and set up the technical infrastructure to receive applications, verify past wages and supporting documentation, determine benefit amounts, and approve or deny claims within 15 days of receipt. The proposal would also require the Treasury to process monthly “benefit claim reports” for all active leave-takers.

Much of the administrative difficulty stems from the wide range of circumstances for which leave is to be available. As illustrated in the table below, different types of leave will require substantially different documentation. Establishing procedures to verify this documentation, process different types of claims, approve legitimate applications, and minimize fraud will require significant planning.

A Staggered Approach

Key advantages of a staggered approach:

  1. Simplifies benefits administration: Applications for leave to bond with a new child would be the simplest for the Treasury Department to process. Such leave does not require the in-depth certification needed for other types of leave. Moreover, the reason and duration of leave following the birth of a child would typically be more predictable and uniform across claims. In contrast, when providing paid leave benefits for caring for an ill family member or personal health condition, the Treasury would have to consider a wide range of circumstances requiring individual attention.
  2. Improves the initial benefit claiming experience: By minimizing complexity in the implementation phase, Treasury would maximize the chances that Americans who are early participants have a positive experience with the program.
  3. Makes parental leave benefits available sooner than currently scheduled: By allowing the Treasury to focus on implementing the simplest benefits first, it would likely be able to provide paid parental leave sooner than July 2023.
  4. Provides opportunity to improve administration: Staggering the implementation would enable the Treasury Department to troubleshoot problems as they arise, improve benefits administration, and integrate best practices before launching the more complicated family caregiving and medical leave elements of the program.

Long-Term Thinking

The U.S. is long overdue for a national PFL program. A staggered implementation schedule would help ensure that the program becomes an effective and durable tool to help families balance work and caregiving responsibilities for decades to come.

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