The White House is moving issues of keen interest to benefits advisors and disability insurers — leave programs and dependent care benefits — to the top of its to-do list.
President Obama today said at a lunch at a cafe in North Baltimore, Md., that his administration will be promoting the idea that all employers ought to try to offer workers at least seven days of sick leave and family leave.
He said he’ll also be encouraging cities and states to look at the feasibility of adopting paid sick leave and family leave policies — and, in related news, he put out a memo asking federal agencies to beef up their sick-leave and backup dependent care benefits.
“One of the biggest problems is that we have is that there are 43 million Americans who don’t get paid sick leave,” Obama said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the White House. “That means that, no matter how sick they are, or how sick a family member is, they may find themselves having to choose to be able to buy groceries or pay the rent, or look after themselves or their children.”
Critics have argued that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) has saddled employers with new costs and disrupted hiring by increasing employers’ uncertainty about benefits costs and benefits administration costs.
Obama said that this is a good time to talk about paid leave, because the economy is stable, and the country has seen 58 straight months of job growth.
In the memo to federal agencies, Obama said the agencies should move toward offering their employees a minimum of 240 hours of advanced sick leave in connection with the birth or adoption of a child, or for other sick-leave-eligible uses.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will develop guidance asking agencies to make the changes needed to provide extra leave and access to other types of related benefits, such as the ability to work from home via telework programs, Obama says in the memo.
Obama says agencies should also offer their employees emergency backup dependent care programs. “Agencies shall consider, consistent with existing resources, providing access to affordable emergency backup dependent care services such as through an employee assistance program,” he says.
Employers may have been putting efforts to add and expand employee assistance programs (EAPs) on the back burner in the past few years while wrestling with PPACA requirements. In September, for example, regulators issued regulations that may block EAP companies’ efforts to offer voluntary, employee-paid EAP programs.
The new administration memo could focus more attention on EAPs and backup dependent care benefits.
Because Obama referred to backup dependent care benefits, rather than backup dependent child care benefits, the memo could also focus attention on daycare programs and other community-based programs for frail adults and adults with disabilities.
See also: Caregiving and work leave