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The idea of paid family leave is finally gaining steam in Congress

The idea of paid family leave is gaining steam on Capitol Hill among both Republicans and Democrats — though lawmakers don’t necessarily agree on how to turn that idea into a reality.

The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on Tuesday examining proposals for paid family leave and medical leave. Republicans are considering several ideas, including allowing people to borrow from their future Social Security benefits, to pay for family leave. Democratic lawmakers are advocating for the Family Act — which would create a new national leave program, funded by payroll contributions.

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 28: Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., left, Ann Wagner, R-Mo., center, and Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., prepare to testify during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on legislative proposals for paid family and medical leave in Longworth Building on Tuesday, January 28, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“The issue and the environment have collided — and paid family leave is finally at the center of the discourse,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in the hearing.

Rebecca Hamilton, co-CEO of the W.S. Badger company, testified in the hearing on Tuesday. The company employs 100 people and makes organic personal care products like balm, moisturizers, and sunscreen. Hamilton runs the family business alongside her sister.

“It helps us to retain talented workforce, helps us to find and attract talented workforce — so there's a good business reason for it as well as it being something that is good for society,” said Hamilton.

W.S. Badger Company products

In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Hamilton said she and her sister have prioritized making the workplace family friendly. The company offers benefits including five weeks of paid family and medical leave, two weeks of paid family caregiver leave, a babies at work program and subsidized child care.

“We're not just looking at quarterly profits as the only way of looking at success. We're looking at longevity of our business. We want our business to be around for multiple generations,” Hamilton said. “We're thinking about the health and wellbeing of our employees and we make an assumption that our employees are going to be there for a long time. Our average employee tenure there is seven years and we have a number of employees who've been there over 10 years.”

Lawmakers recently passed a measure giving more than 2 million federal workers access to 12 weeks of paid family leave, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. President Donald Trump signed the NDAA last month. While Hamilton said it’s encouraging to see federal workers get that benefit, a federal paid leave policy for everyone would be a “game-changer.”

“It [paid leave] shouldn't be something that a business like ours has to come up with voluntarily. It should be a benefit that's just standard,” said Hamilton in an interview with Yahoo Finance.

Republican lawmakers are leery of a new national program. The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), raised called the Family Act an “outrageous tax hike.”

"Americans deserve a paid family leave plan that helps families and small businesses, not a one-size-fits-all Washington mandate,” said Brady in his prepared remarks.

Hamilton said she understands concerns about costs, but told Yahoo Finance her investment in Badger’s benefit program has paid off.

“We see this as just a net positive,” Hamilton said. “Any business is going to have to deal with an employee who at one time or another is either going to give birth or have an ailing sick parent or have some kind of medical condition they have to care for. If a business doesn't have a good strategy for how to deal with it, then it's going to be challenging both for the employee and the employer in the long run.”

Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.

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