(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Labor Department says it has awarded $500,000 to help the District of Columbia and three states pay for "feasibility studies" on paid family and medical leave. One of the states already has paid leave.
"Too many working families today can't afford to take the time they need to care for their families or themselves because they lack any form of paid leave," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in a news release announcing the funding.
"We need to do more to give people the tools to be responsible employees and good caregivers, so they don't have to choose between the families they love and the jobs and economic security they need. These federal grants will further our understanding of this issue."
Perez insisted that paid leave "makes economic sense," something that the newly announced feasibility studies are intended to determine.
Under the grants announced on Wednesday, Rhode Island -- which already has paid family leave for state employees -- will get $161,417 to examine the effectiveness of its Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program and to promote public awareness of the program.
Montana will receive $124,651 to research the feasibility and economic impact of creating a state paid family leave program — and to conduct public opinion research for a public relations pitch.
Massachusetts weill get $117,651 to develop a "microsimulation model" that will help the state estimate eligibility and benefit costs of a variety of paid leave programs.
And the District of Columbia will receive $96,281 to produce an economic impact analysis, financing and benefit models, and a cost-benefit study of enacting a paid family leave program.
All three states and the District of Columbia are led by Democrats.
Aside from R.I., California and New Jersey are the only two states currently offering paid family leave. All three states fund their programs through employee-paid payroll taxes, says the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Democrats have made paid family and medical leave a campaign issue in the run-up to the midterm election.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for men and women to care for their newborn or newly adopted children, seriously ill family members, or their own health needs.
However, the Labor Department notes that many workers cannot afford to take unpaid time off.
The Obama administration argues that paid leave programs improve health outcomes for children, ill adults and seniors; reduce turnover and increase employee retention, which cuts down on training costs for businesses; keep workers attached to the labor force; and boost earnings over time.
But some business groups oppose paid leave, citing administrative costs, potential abuse of the program, and difficulty covering for those who take paid leave from their jobs.