Why We Need Universal Paid Leave

by: Ethel Taylor Special to the AFRO
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About this time last year, I found out the devastating news that my husband had stage 4 cancer. Although he is recovering now, I could still use a program like family and medical leave even this year. It would have given me the peace of mind, when I needed it most, to sustain my small business during a family emergency. I’m glad Universal Paid Leave Act is a proposal in front of the City Council, hopefully to be passed before the year closes.

Ethel Taylor, owner of Doggie Washerette in Washington, D.C. (Facebook Photo)

Due to my husband’s life threatening condition, my business went from a bustling 6 full time employee operation to only 1 part time groomer. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with him so I do not regret any business decisions I had to make, but if I had access to a policy like paid leave, it would have been a different story for the Doggie Washerette.

Under the Universal Paid Leave Act, as the employer, I would have paid a 1% tax on payroll into an insurance pool to fund the program. For instance, a payroll of roughly $200,000, I would have paid $2,000. Broken up into -four payments of $500 throughout the year, makes this a manageable and predictable amount. It is dramatically more manageable and predictable than dealing with a family emergency without any income or safety net.

The best aspect of this program is that the employer can realistically take leave too, just like my employees can. And, since the person on leave would be paid out of this insurance pool, by the city, their salary can easily be put toward a temporary replacement at the employer’s discretion.

There is a right way and a wrong way to establish paid leave for D.C. Having dealt with private insurance companies this year for my husband, that is not something I would wish on anyone. We need the D.C. government to work in the best interest of business owners and their employees by creating a social insurance fund for leave with a 1% tax on payroll, not requiring us to purchase private insurance to cover protections like this. Further, we need to be sure this program works, in view of how our families care for one another. Not including parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles or siblings in the bill’s definition of family goes against the African-American tradition of shared family caregiving responsibilities.

My small business venture is a way to honor my own background. It is foundational to the African-American culture that we share, that we give back, and that we take care of each other. A job is one thing, a quality job, another. But ownership – that is the pathway, not only to the middle class, but toward meaningful economic, self-determination. And my contribution to my community is to hire people who would not otherwise have a job. At one time, two of my employees were homeless.

One way to protect and promote a pathway to the middle class for the African American community is to encourage local entrepreneurship by giving the tools to succeed in building wealth and creating jobs. Small businesses, like the people who work for them, and for all businesses, need safety nets when life throws the inevitable curve ball. Without policies like the Universal Paid Leave Act in place, it was nearly impossible for me to care for my husband, which had a ripple effect of heartbreaking layoffs for my loyal staff.

Ethel Taylor is the owner of Doggie Washerette on Georgia Avenue in Washington, D.C. She is a long time resident of Shepherd Park/Colonial Village and lives there with her husband, son, and her Standard Poodle, Joy. She is a member of the DMV Small Business Alliance, a project of the Main Street Alliance.

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