Paid leave for new Austin parents who are city employees is proving more popular than officials had expected.
Austin last year became the first Texas city to offer paid leave to its employees to care for a newborn or a newly adopted or foster child.
The Austin American-Statesman reports the city paid out about $691,000 in the program's first seven months. That's more than double the amount the city expected to pay for the entire year.
City officials expected 60 employees to take the paid maternity or paternity leave. In the first seven months, 162 parents took time off work.
"I was struggling...As a new mom, it's tough to manage a full-time job plus a new child," said Austin city employee Jessica King, who took paid parental leave part-time and worked part-time.
The city's paid leave "gave me the ability to really focus on my job when I was at work and focus on home when I was at home," she said.
Critics of the paid leave option have said taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill for public workers who choose to become parents.
But supporters argue the city hasn't spent extra money on the paid leave program. They said the city would still have paid the $691,000 in salaries if the employees were at work instead of at home caring for children.
"This is money that had already been budgeted for the employees' salaries," said City Council Member Kathie Tovo said. "The city makes a lot of investments in employees' health and well-being, including a wellness program that provides free PE classes. I view this as another investment in healthy, secure and happy families."
Under federal law, Austin city employees could always take 12 weeks of unpaid maternity or paternity leave. The difference now is the city will pay them for six of those weeks, or 30 work days. They don't have to use up vacation or sick time first, though they can use it later to cover the other six weeks.