Fedweek

A bill before the House (HR-564) to expand paid leave for federal employees would be worth some $16 billion to non-postal employees—and thus cost the government that amount—over five years, according to an estimate done for Congress that may prove to be a hurdle to the bill’s enactment.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated those costs for a bill that would expand the circumstances in which employees could substitute paid leave for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Currently, employees may take paid leave instead of unpaid leave for up to all of the 12 weeks per 12-month period allowed under that law for purposes related to a new birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.

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The bill would expand that by allowing employees to take paid leave instead for other purposes under the FMLA, related to personal or close family medical conditions and certain other emergencies. It also would waive the requirement of one year of employment before being eligible for leave for any of those purposes for those with at least one year in the military, and would extend parental leave eligibility to miscarriages.

CBO estimated that about 6 percent of federal employees would use an average of seven weeks of medical leave each year and that about 2 percent of federal employees would use an average of seven weeks of caregiving leave each year.

Separately, it estimated some $8.5 billion over 10 years in costs at the self-funding Postal Service, whose employees currently are left out of the paid parental leave authority but who would be made eligible for paid leave for all FMLA purposes under the bill.

There further would be additional costs in retirement benefits in the long run as employees used that paid leave rather than their sick leave, since unused sick leave is credited as time served in an annuity calculation, CBO said.

That assessment could prove daunting, especially when added to the projected $1 billion in annual costs for parental leave for non-postal employees already on the books. Republicans raised cost objections when the bill was being approved in the Oversight and Reform Committee which at the time was working with a preliminary CBO cost estimate that was much lower.

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