WASHINGTON, D.C. | June 11, 2009 -
I would like to begin by thanking our distinguished panel of witnesses for appearing today. We appreciate that they have taken time out of their busy schedules to share their expertise and experiences with us.
Today’s hearing provides Members of this Subcommittee with an opportunity to discuss the Family and Medical Leave Act and a couple legislative proposals aimed at promoting “healthy families.” At first blush, how can any Member of Congress on either side not support “healthy families”? However, once you examine beyond the title of the Healthy Families Act, it becomes clear that the only thing appealing about it is its title.
Enacting this particular proposal would require countless U.S. employers, even those with as few as 15 employees, to provide paid sick leave to every employee, for a range of medical and non-medical conditions great and small. By way of contrast, that’s a threshold far lower than the law currently mandates with respect to unpaid leave for serious health conditions or the birth of a child under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
We are gravely concerned with the impact this legislation will have on the U.S. economy, employers, workers, and job creation. It represents the intrusion of the federal government into the benefits policies of millions of companies, large and small. The most troubling aspect of the Healthy Families Act is that it ultimately threatens to harm workers by way of lower wages and fewer opportunities. If this were implemented, the costs of government-mandated benefits would be passed on to American workers through reduced wages and fewer jobs. At the very moment when Americans are worried about losing their job, this proposal undercuts job creation through higher employer costs. Employers around this nation see this type of legislation – right now – and many have frozen any hiring because they don’t know how severe government dictates will be. This Congress and Administration are killing even the possibility of new jobs.
What I urge this Committee to do is to keep facts about the current workforce in perspective. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2008, 93 percent of full-time employees were provided paid time off that could be used in the event of an illness, and 51 percent of part-time workers had paid illness leave. In 2008, 79 percent of low-wage workers, and by that I mean folks making between $7.25 and $14.99 an hour, had paid illness leave. Last year, 94 percent of large employers offered paid leave that could be used for illness, as did 76 percent of small businesses, meaning those with less than 50 employees. The facts suggest that we should not be imposing costly and new one-size-fits-all burdens on businesses based on any faulty assumptions about the workplace.
Putting these facts aside, I am also concerned that this proposal raises a host of unanswered questions, and indeed, stretches far beyond the reach of what its proponents claim it does. For instance, supporters claim that the Healthy Families Act will have no effect on businesses that already provide paid sick leave, but taking a closer look at the “fine print” makes it clear that it’s only those employers who provide leave that meets the exact conditions and circumstances set forth in the bill. How many employers do we think will meet that standard, especially after Washington bureaucrats draft hundreds of pages of federal regulations?
Turning to the second bill that we will examine this morning, the Family Income to Respond to Significant Transitions Act, it is sponsored by our Chairwoman. Her efforts and commitment to improving workplace environments across this country are to be applauded. But the proposal appears to put Washington in the business of paying for sick days to the tune of about one and a half BILLION dollars over the next four years. At a time when we are facing massive, record budget deficits and the President has us on the path to raising the national debt to $23.1 TRILLION by 2019, this is a road we simply cannot afford. Even in the absolute best economic climate, this is a questionable idea – far beyond the appropriate role of the federal government.
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