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December 01, 1999
Clinton's Plan for Family Leave on UI Met with Criticism
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sident Clinton announced a new proposal to permit the use of paid parental leave yesterday with considerable fanfare. Posed with three families in the Oval Office, he said:

"I believe giving states the flexibility to experiment with paid employment leave is one of the best things we can do to strengthen our families and help new mothers and fathers meet their responsibilities, both at home and at work."  He went on to say ``...the current (FMLA) law meets just a fraction of the need, and the number one reason families give for not taking advantage of family and medical leave is that they simply can't afford to take time off without a paycheck."

Reaction from business leaders was swift -- and generally negative. Employers seem reluctant to open up the unemployment coffers to spend money on parental leave. Randy Johnson, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said:

"It's just a backdoor way to get employers to pay for a program that the administration wants but can't figure out how to pay for."

The proposal's legality was put into question by Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee in an AP story.

"We believe this effort raises serious questions concerning the Department of Labor's legal authority to undertake such a fundamental change in the nature and purpose of unemployment compensation funds without congressional approval.''

The Administration estimates a cost of $68 million annually for the pilot project, and assumes a maximum of 71,000 parents in four states will participate.  Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont and Washington are the states anxious to try out the new plan on an experimental basis.

Business Group launches campaign to stop proposal

The Department of Labor issued the proposed regulations allowing states to use their Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Funds to pay workers for family leave. A broad-based business group has launched a national campaign to stop the proposal. The campaign is led by Eric Oxfeld, President of UWC -- Strategic Services on Unemployment and Workers' Compensation and Deanna Gelak, Executive Director of the National FMLA Technical Corrections Coalition launched by the Society for Human Resource Management.

"With the release of the regulations, the nation's safety net for workers who lose their jobs faces imminent danger," said Eric Oxfeld, President of UWC -- Strategic Services on Unemployment & Workers' Compensation. "A worker who has taken leave and is, by law, entitled to a job upon returning from leave, is not 'unemployed' as required by federal unemployment laws. From the inception of the UI system, the federal government has recognized the need to protect UI reserves from the powerful temptation for states to spend down their UI reserves by using the money for new programs. That's why federal law has always required that UI benefits be limited to workers who are able and available for work."

Stopping the expansion is one of the top legislative priorities of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which spearheads the FMLA Technical Corrections Coalition.

"We're not going to let them get away with this" said Deanna Gelak, Executive Director of the FMLA Technical Corrections Coalition. "When Congress debated the FMLA, it made a conscious decision not to require paid leave. If the Administration believes that the fundamental nature of the UI system should be changed to include an entirely different program, it should ask Congress and the American people, not try to sneak through the regulatory back door by unilaterally modifying the scope of federal unemployment law when Congress is out of town," said Gelak.

Public comment period on the regulation ends Jan. 17. Then it would be up to the state legislatures to set up paid parental leave programs. Additional information can be found at: www.saveui.org. The UI Working Group is a lobbying coalition led by UWC and the SHRM-led FMLA Corrections Coalition.

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