Public Hearing on Bill 21-415, Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015

Yesterday, we testified on the benefits of Universal Paid Leave for families with young children in the District of Columbia. Read our full remarks below: 


Testimony of Lisa Raymond, Deputy Director

DC Action for Children

 Hearing on “The Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015”

 Before the Committee of the Whole

Council of the District of Columbia

December 2, 2015


Good morning, Chairman Mendelson and Members of the Committee of the Whole. Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing on “The Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015.” My name is Lisa Raymond, and I am the deputy director for DC Action for Children. I have also had the privilege of serving as the Ward 6 Member and President of the State Board of Education, and of supporting the work of this Council as the education advisor to the Committee of the Whole. Last but not least, I am a parent of two 11-year olds and a proud 20-year resident of the District of Columbia.

DC Action provides data analysis and policy leadership on issues facing DC children and youth. We are the home of DC KIDS COUNT, which tracks key indicators of child well-being in our city. Our advocacy agenda is based on these data.

In summary, DC Action believes that paid family leave is a critical step toward improving the outcomes of all children and families, and particularly those living in poverty. Children live within a family, and when that family experiences stress or hardship, there is a significant impact on their well-being, resulting in negative educational and health outcomes. Paid family leave helps families reduce emotional and financial stress, serving as a long-term investment in children beginning at birth, and thereby a long-term investment in our city. Potential benefits include a reduction in spending on educational interventions and supports, incarceration and public benefits programs, and a better-prepared workforce and a stronger economy.[1]

Need for Paid Family Leave in DC

Significant Population Growth of Children Under Five

There has been a population explosion of infants and toddlers in the District of Columbia over the past ten years, and a great need to create new policies to support these young children and their working families. The District has seen its birth to five population increase 35 percent between 2004 and 2014,[2] compared to a national growth rate of just over one percent.

Of these 43,000 children under age five, 24 percent were born into families living below the poverty level[3] and 43 percent live in homes headed by single parents. There are approximately 26,500 children in the youngest age group – those under age three.[4]

Working Families and Single Parents

Approximately 10,000 District families (15 percent of all of those in the city) are low-income working families with children. Additionally, over half of the births in the District of Columbia (4,690 in 2013) were to single women, with significant disparities by race: in 2013, 78 percent of black new mothers and 59 percent of Hispanic new mothers were single, compared to less than seven percent of white new mothers.

Children in Low-Income Families are Faring Worse than their More Affluent Peers

Despite a strong focus on pre-k and some improvements in the education and health outcomes of children aged birth to five, the District still has a long way to go toward addressing significant disparities between children living in high income and low income families.

Low-income children are more likely to enter Pre-K without the skills they need to succeed than their more affluent peers. Researchers have identified a 30 million word gap between three-year old children of affluent families and those living in families receiving public assistance.[5] Unfortunately, what begins as a word gap at age three becomes a visible academic performance gap by third grade. In 2014, only 34 percent of economically disadvantaged students in the District performed proficient or above in reading, as compared to 78 percent on non-economically disadvantaged students.[6]

While infant mortality rates have improved in the District overall, rates in some wards remain high. For example, in 2013, Ward 5 had an infant mortality rate of nearly double the national rate: 11.9 per 1,000 live births[7], as compared to a national rate of six.[8] Wards 8 and 7 were close behind at 10.9 and 9.7 respectively.

Benefits for Children

If we ever hope to improve the health and educational outcomes of District students and transform their lifelong trajectories, we must begin by preparing them for success in school. Parent and other caregiver interactions during the first 18 months of a child’s life lay the foundation for that child’s future learning, behavior and health.[9] The District must provide the right kind of quality care, early intervention and support during this time, including paid family leave, as it improves the outcomes of both children and their families.

Parents at Home Help Support Critical Brain Development in Infants

The dramatic, rapid process by which infants develop new neural connections – connections that will determine whether they build the cognitive-linguistic skills needed in school and in life– is impacted by their environment and their interactions with those caring for them.[10] Helping parents to extend their time at home with their newborns, or to take care of them when they are sick, reduces family stress and improves the family bond, resulting in improved lifetime outcomes for children.[11]

Reducing Income Instability Improves Child Education and Health Outcomes

Paid family leave would give all parents much-needed support to care for their families or for their own medical needs without fear of losing their income. Research shows that economic instability, which leads to family stress, has negative effects on the educational development of children, often resulting in poorer academic performance and behavioral problems. For example, one study found that year-to-year income losses of 30 percent or more had a direct negative effect on preschool children’s cognitive test scores.[12] Not only does paid family leave help promote income stability for families, but it benefits the entire city through increased labor force participation, lower employee turnover and reduced spending on public assistance.[13]

Paid family leave is proven to reduce both infant mortality and mortality of children under five, while unpaid leave has no effect at all.[14] Children whose parents take leave after childbirth are more likely to receive well-baby checkups and complete immunizations.[15] Paid leave can also help prevent maternal depression and stress.

DC as a Leader in Supporting Children and Families

This Council has demonstrated time and again a commitment to investing in the education and health of our residents and specifically in our youngest learners not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because these investments will pay off for our city. The Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 is the next important component of this investment, and its passage would once again make our city a leader in the nation. It will benefit families by giving them the opportunity to bond with their children and support them during the most critical time of development, setting them up for future success in school and in the workplace.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to answer any questions.


[1] Gault, B., Hartmann, H., Hegewisch, A., Milli, J., and Reichlin, L. (2014). Paid parental leave in the United States: What the data tell us about access, usage, and economic and health benefits. Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

[2] Data via DC KIDS COUNT; Child Population by Age Group; Source: US Census Bureau. Accessed at:,36,15,14/6…

[3] Data via DC KIDS COUNT; Children in Poverty by Age Group; Source: US Census Bureau. Accessed at:,36,868,…

[4] Data via DC KIDS COUNT; Children in Single-Parent Families; Source: US Census Bureau. Accessed at:,868,867…

[5] Hart, Becky and Risley, Todd (2003). The early catastrophe: The 30 million word gap by age three. The American Educator.

[6] OSSE (2014). 2014 DC CAS School, Subgroup, and Grade Proficiency [Spreadsheet]. Retrieved from

[9] Shonkoff, Jack P. and Phillips, D. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. National Academy Press.

[10]Shonkoff (2000). 

[11] Gault (2014).

[12] Yeung,W., Linver, M. and Brooks-Gunn, J. (2002).How money matters for young children’s development: Parental investment and family processes. Child Development 73(6), 1861-79.

[13] Gault, B., Hartmann, H., Hegewisch, A., Milli, J., and Reichlin, L. (2014).

[14] Ruhm, C. (2000). Parental leave and child health. Journal of Health Economics 19, 931–960 and Tanaka, S. (2005). Parental leave and child health across OECD countries. The Economic Journal 115, F7–F28.

[15] Berger, L.M., Hill, J. and Waldfogel, J. (2005). Maternity leave, early maternal employment and child health and development in the U.S. The Economic Journal 115, F29-F47.

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