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 1 in 3 PA women of childbearing age do not satisfy. This test excludes from eligibility all people who worked less than 18 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 12 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.

StateWork History Needed in Prior Year
CAEarn $300
COEarn $2,500
CTEarn $2,325 in Highest Quarter
DEWork 1,250 Hours
MAEarn $6,000
MDWork 680 Hours
MNEarn $3,500
NJEarn $12,000 or Work 20 Weeks & Earn $4,800
NYWork 26 Weeks at 20 Hours Per Week or Work 175 Days
ORWork 25 Hours Per Week for 180 Days
PA (Proposed)Work 18 Weeks & Earn $2,718
RIWork 52 Weeks at 30 Hours Per Week
WAWork 820 Hours

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.

Update: This piece initially stated that 24% of PA women of childbearing age fail the work history test. The actual number is 34%. The post now reflects that.