The thank you note isn’t long.
Only a few paragraphs in an email that Dustin White sent to a high-up administrator he had never met.
But the depth of White’s gratitude for the paid parental leave benefit he had through his job with Salt Lake City could not be more clear or sincere.
“The experience of becoming a new father is already the greatest feeling in the world,” White wrote in a letter to Mayor Jackie Biskupski. “To have the time to help my recovering wife, bond with my child and really learn to be a DAD was the greatest time of my life.”
Attached to the note: Nine adorable pictures of blue-eyed baby Hazel Love White, with big colorful bows on her head.
That’s exactly what Mayor Biskupski had in mind in January 2017, when she announced the first-in-Utah paid parental leave policy.
The program offers six weeks of paid time off for birth parents — both mother and fathers — adoptive parents and foster care parents.
“No matter how our families are formed, time with our children is precious and critically important in their development,” Mayor Biskupski said. “As a City we believe in supporting our families and I am so glad that we are able to provide this support to both the mothers and fathers in our employ.”
Salt Lake City’s leave policy was designed to increase the ability of families to balance their lives at work and at home, Carolyn Campbell, the city’s benefits program manager said.
“Paid family leave can also promote gender equality, taking into account the importance of both parents’ time with children,” she said.
The program has been wildly successful. In the first six months of implantation, 211 mothers or fathers have used the benefit.
“Knowing I had the support and paid time off from the office, offered me piece of mind and enabled me to fully buy-in to learn all the things I had no idea how to do,” White, who works for the city’s public utilities department, wrote in his letter to the Mayor.”
Kaletta Lynch, an executive assistant in the Department of Community and Neighborhoods found a similar piece of mind two years ago, when unexpected health complications arose for both her and her new daughter, Kennedy. That meant needing more time off from work than she had planned and a bigger hospital bill than expected.
The paid family leave program took some of the load off, she said, especially because her husband’s job doesn’t offer a similar benefit.
Without paid leave, Lynch said, “my husband probably would have had to pick up another job just to make sure for those few weeks we weren’t getting paid that our bills were still taken care of.”
Two years after adopting its paid parental leave policy, Salt Lake City remains the only Utah city to offer such a benefit, although Salt Lake County now offers the benefit to its employees.
The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee paid parental leave, sometimes more broadly called family leave, to its citizens.
Currently only five states — California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington — and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to offer paid family leave programs. A few others provide leave only for mothers.
Municipal governments, however, appear to be picking up the slack, embracing the findings of numerous studies that show the benefits of paid parental leave for parents and their children, as well as their employer and communities. Those can include better health outcomes for kids, reduced rates of both postpartum depression and infant mortality, better retention of female workers and improved father-child relationships.
A 2018 study from the National Partnership for Women & Families found that 72 cities and counties across 25 states offered paid leave benefits.
“I am so proud that Salt Lake is a forward-thinking city that not only values our families, but enacts policies that help them thrive,” Mayor Biskupski said. “It is my hope that other cities will follow our example.”