A family walking up steps

A new provision in the Democratic Party's social spending package would leave out the lowest earners, policy expert Matt Bruenig says. (Photo: Kat Grigg/Flickr/cc)

Democrats' Paid Family Leave Plan 'Keeps Getting Worse,' Policy Expert Warns

The lowest earners "were already not going to get very much under the prior version," wrote Matt Bruenig. "But now they aren't going to get anything."

People's Policy Project founder Matt Bruenig on Thursday pointed to a new provision buried in the Democratic Party's newest version of the Build Back Better Act that would ensure the lowest earners in the U.S. are left out of the legislation's paid leave program, saying the proposal "just keeps getting worse" as negotiations continue.

"The Democrats modified the eligibility rule to ensure that the lowest earners in the workforce cannot claim benefits from the program."

The new version of the bill offers only four weeks of paid leave rather than the 12 weeks initially included, which had the support of seven in 10 Americans, including large majorities of Republican and independent voters.
But a "smaller, more insidious change" weakening the package, said Bruenig, is a new rule requiring workers to have earned at least $2,000 in the last two years, in addition to a stipulation that was in the previous version of the bill which requires workers to have "at least the specified amount of wages and self-employment income during the most recent eight-calendar quarter period that ends at least four months prior to the beginning of the individual's benefit period."
In other words, Bruenig wrote, the new bill still requires that employees "worked in the period immediately prior" to taking leave, a requirement that already excluded from the benefit "around one in three new mothers, including those who are still in education, disabled, or who have had a recent spell of unemployment."
"When reinserting paid leave back into the bill, the Democrats modified the eligibility rule to ensure that the lowest earners in the workforce cannot claim benefits from the program," said Bruenig. "These people were already not going to get very much under the prior version. But now they aren't going to get anything."
The new measure stipulating that workers have earned at least $2,000 in the two years prior to taking leave "knocks out of eligibility... the lowest earners in the workforce," he wrote.
Bruenig added that some in the political press appear to have misunderstood the new requirement, as Politico's Eleanor Mueller claimed on Twitter that the new bill simply "makes sure that people with erratic income can access paid leave even if they haven't worked in the period immediately prior."
"The requirement that they have 'worked in the period immediately prior' is contained in paragraph 3, which as you can see clear as day above is still in the bill," countered Bruenig. "Mueller seems to think that paragraph 4 replaced paragraph 3. But this is not the case. Paragraph 4 is a new restriction that is coming in on top of paragraph 3. It does not help people with erratic incomes. It does nothing but make some people who were eligible under the prior version of the bill ineligible under the new version of the bill."
Suggesting lawmakers have intentionally misled reporters regarding the details of the new restrictions, Bruenig wrote, "They are tightening the rope on the neck of the poor but don't want anyone to know it."

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