This is the third and final (for now) entry in my series about navigating the District of Columbia’s universal paid family and medical leave program. You can find the first entry here and the second entry here.
My family leave
During my paid leave period I flew back and forth across the country a few times to provide support to a family member recovering from surgery. One of the interesting things I noticed was that support can take on more forms than you might expect. I’ve known people who work as full-time caretakers and work 12- or 24-hour shifts tending IV’s and providing other kinds of medical care. I didn’t do anything like that, since I’m utterly unqualified to do anything like that.
But there are a lot of forms of care that don’t require any specialized training, but which people may still be unable to do themselves while preparing for or recovering from health events. Grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking in and out the trash, and picking up prescriptions are all daily activities that are typically taken up by friends and family members when people are temporarily physically unable to do them on their own.
So, that’s what I did!
My paid family and medical leave payments
For the sake of simplicity, I reported on my application for paid leave that I work 7 days per week, so my “weekly benefit” was split up into 7ths. As I explained in the second entry in this series, my understanding was that the first week of leave would be unpaid, and I would only receive benefits for the days after that. Since my total leave was 25 days long, I expected to receive 18 days of benefits. In fact:
- My first payment, for the week ending December 11, was paid out on December 13 and reflected the 6 days of that week I was on leave.
- My second payment, for the weeks ending December 18 and 25, was paid out in full on December 27.
- My third payment, for the week ending January 1, was paid out on January 10, and reflected an additional 5 days of paid leave.
In other words, I was paid for the full 25 days of my leave period, with no waiting period at all. I’m genuinely unclear on why this happened, but have two possible explanations. First, since the diagnosis of my family member’s condition took place more than 7 days before my leave period started, the 7-day waiting period may have been considered to have already passed by the time my leave started. Alternately, since I filed the paperwork more than one week before the start of my leave period, the 7-day clock may have started at the time I filed my paperwork, or the time it was approved, rather than the actual beginning of my leave period.
So few people have used this program that it’s essentially impossible to collect comparable datapoints, but I hope future reporting makes clear how the DC paid family leave program is actually interpreting the 7-day waiting period, or whether they’re enforcing it at all.
A final point to note here: paid family leave benefits are paid bi-weekly, but for no obvious reason. My first payment was received shortly after the beginning of my leave period, the second two weeks later, the third two weeks after that, and the fourth one week after that.
The fourth? Let’s talk about the fourth.
My surprise monetary redetermination
On January 10, I received a bizarre e-mail. Rather than my benefits being based on the 4 highest-earning of the last 5 quarters (during which I’ve been broke), my monetary eligibility was being revised based on the 4 highest-earning of the last 10 quarters (stretching back to when I had a good-paying job). The document looked real, but I had no way of knowing whether it was a technical error, phishing hack, or policy change.
I logged into my paid family leave portal, and saw the same message there: my monetary determination had increased six-fold. But there was no more money in my bank account, so I skeptically maintained the assumption that this was a typical case of incompetence by the vile Doctor Morris-Hughes.
Today, the entire amount of my monetary redetermination (accounting for 25 days) was deposited in my checking account, just one week after my “final” payment.
I’m not gloating, although the Lord knows I can use the money. Rather, I want to draw attention to two particular things. First, that the payment schedule is totally arbitrary: UI pays out weekly, PFL pays out biweekly, but PFL is capable of paying out weekly when an error or redetermination is made. I don’t have any particular feelings one way or the other about weekly versus biweekly payouts, but it’s bizarre two programs administered by the same department choose to pay out benefits so differently and so erratically.
Second, the paid family leave department’s public documentation is so hopelessly out of date that these questions are impossible to answer without intense scrutiny both by the public and the relevant authorities. Unfortunately, the Department of Employment Services and the loathsome Doctor Morris-Hughes have been held completely unaccountable, whether to the Mayor, to the City Council, or to the public.