Pennsylvania Could Become the First State to Pass Universal Parental Leave

The state just has to make one small tweak to their parental leave proposal — otherwise a large number of new Pennsylvania parents will be ineligible for the program and receive no financial support while they care for their newborns.

Pennsylvania doesn't have to make the same mistake that other states have when crafting childcare policy. (Kristoffer Trolle / Wikimedia Commons)

A bill has been introduced in the Pennsylvania state legislature to create a paid leave program in the state. The bill is currently scheduled for a committee vote on June 6.

Unfortunately, the current draft of the legislation includes a work history test in section 303(b) that around one in three Pennsylvania women of childbearing age do not satisfy. This test excludes from eligibility all people who worked less than eighteen weeks or earned less than $2,718 in the year prior to seeking benefits. If this test remains in the bill, a large minority of new parents will be ineligible for the program and receive no financial support while they care for their newborns.

The legislation is in early enough stages that this problem could be fixed. All legislators need to do is add a paragraph to the legislation that creates a minimum benefit that all new parents are at least eligible for, even if they do not satisfy the work history test. New parents that are eligible for more than the minimum benefit would still get that higher amount, but no new parent would be eligible for less than the minimum.

Legislators across the country have made this same mistake over and over again, in part because they seem to be mindlessly copying one another without considering that prior states may have made some mistakes in the way that they designed their programs. Below is a table showing the work history tests in all twelve states that have paid leave programs and a graph, based on the American Community Survey, showing how many women of childbearing age fail that test.

With a slight tweak to the current paid leave bill, Pennsylvania could buck this trend and be the first state in the country to actually pass a universal parental leave program that includes all new parents. This is how parental leave benefits are structured in many of our peer nations and there is no reason why they cannot be structured that way here.