Last Wednesday, several dozen invited experts testified before the DC Council about our paid family leave bill, the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015. One witness was Jacob Feinspan, Executive Director of lead coalition partner Jews United for Justice.
Jacob spoke movingly about his own experience caring for a premature newborn, and how this inspired him to offer paid parental leave to the JUFJ staff. Read the rest of Jacob's testimony below.
Good morning. My name is Jacob Feinspan and I am the Executive Director of Jews United for Justice, a grassroots organization that is strongly committed to the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015.
Firstly, this is a common sense and wildly popular policy. Both the recent Washington Post poll and a poll commissioned by JUFJ and DC Fiscal Policy Institute showed 80% or higher support for the policy. You’re going to hear a lot today about how the sky will fall if we implement this policy, and from a lot of the same people who said that paid sick leave and higher minimum wages would drive employers out of business or out of the city. That hasn’t happened. Our city’s people are healthier and better off because they’re getting a decent chance at a decent job and quality of life. Paid family and medical leave has been a winner in New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island, and, also, not surprisingly in every other country in the developed world that guarantees at least paid maternity leave. The sky is not falling, and over 80% of us know it already.
Secondly, we all need this policy. Over the past ten months JUFJ has heard from hundreds of working people and families across the city. Everyone has a story, if not multiple stories, of when they needed to care for themselves or their families. When we forced workers to choose between earning money and caring for their family, they suffer, and their families suffer physically, emotionally, and financially. And the ripple effects impact our whole community.
My first child was born six weeks premature. He was in the NICU for days. And with his compromised immune system we were instructed by his doctors to keep him home and away from crowds or other children. I was working at Jews United for Justice, which at the time was just me and two other staff. I was the boss and it was hard to imagine taking leave. But those early weeks were an absolutely crucial time to care for my baby – and to support my wife’s recovery. I cobbled together some paid leave, and we were incredibly lucky that my wife’s employer offered 12 weeks of paid leave. Without it, I don’t know what we would have done – it wasn’t safe for my son to be in a childcare setting until months after his birth.
JUFJ now provides paid parental leave and short term disability. We are not obligated to provide these benefits nor to hold anyone’s job, and it does make staffing more complex, but it is the right thing to do. And it is the smart thing to do – paid leave has been critical to retaining valued staff members. The Universal Paid Leave Act makes it more possible for every employer in this city to offer a solid policy on a level playing field and for a reliable and truly low price.
The Universal Paid Leave Act will make DC an innovative national leader in practical, ethical workplace policy. We are particularly pleased that the bill covers everyone, for up to 16 weeks, at a progressive pay replacement that ensures our lower-paid residents can actually afford to take the leave they deserve. We are also proud that the Council put forward a bill that values all family relations – siblings, grandchildren, partners, and more – because in the 21st century family means more than Mom, Pop, and 2.4 kids. We also are glad to see that the bill strengthens job protection. 83% of respondents to our recent poll believe a job should be held when taking leave.
These elements of the bill are essential. Without them, this is a hollow policy that only works for some – and not the vulnerable people and families who need it most. I look forward to a robust discussion about how we can make this bill better. But we need to start with a commitment to basic human dignity and putting families first.
The great 12th century sage Maimonides, who was a doctor as well as a rabbi, wrote that one of the highest communal responsibilities in a city was to create a healthy environment for residents – he even specified that the town’s elected leaders should create a communal fund to pay for vulnerable residents’ medical expenses, because without health no one can live a dignified life and contribute to society. But, as polling demonstrates, you don’t have to be Jewish to see that paid family and medical leave is a win-win for families and businesses alike. For District residents and workers forced to choose every day between caring and providing for their families, the shared insurance model in the Universal Paid Leave Act is a godsend.
We are grateful to Councilmembers Grosso and Silverman and their staff for their leadership on this bill and to all the bill’s co-introducers who are committed to supporting working families. I urge the Council to expeditiously move forward on passing the Universal Paid Leave Act. Thank you for your time and I invite your questions.