With the new year came the implementation of a new bill: Rhode Island’s paid family leave legislation, passed in July, is now in effect. That means that three states have paid family leave programs in place, as Rhode Island joins California, whose law went into effect in 2004, and New Jersey, which started its program in 2009.
Rhode Island’s law expands its previous Temporary Disability Insurance program, which only covered those who needed time off for work-related illnesses or injuries. Temporary Caregiver Insurance will now offer paid family leave, covering about 80 percent of the state’s workforce. Workers can now pay into into the program through a payroll deduction, which would cost someone who makes $43,000 a year 83 cents a week. They can then take up to four weeks of paid leave, although that number will climb to six weeks next year and eight weeks by 2015. The minimum weekly payment someone could receive is $72, while the maximum is $752.
Other states have made some progress toward similar programs. Three states, Hawaii, New Jersey, and New York, have Temporary Disability Insurance programs that allow workers to pay in and get a portion of their wages when they take leave. Connecticut set up a task force to study the feasibility of paid family leave in June, and Vermont and New Hampshire have also set up task forces. New York and Massachusetts have pending bills, and some other states, such as Colorado, North Carolina, and Oregon have previously considered it and could again. Washington became the second state to pass a paid family leave bill in 2007, but it has been postponed a handful of times due to budgetary constraints and the future of the law is uncertain.
Yet even with this patchwork, many workers don’t have access to paid time off for the arrival of a new child. The United States is one of a just a few countries across the globe that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, and just 11 percent of private sector workers and 17 percent of public workers have access to paid maternity leave through their employers. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) ensures that many workers can take 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but due to restrictions, 40 percent of workers aren’t even covered by that. And of those who are covered but don’t take the unpaid leave, nearly half say it’s because they can’t afford it.
To make sure all workers can take paid time off for a new child, the Center for American Progress proposed a plan called Social Security Cares, which would create a nationwide paid family leave program that would allow workers to pay in through Social Security. Since then, a similar bill has been introduced at the federal level. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) put forward legislation in December that would ensure all workers could take 12 weeks of paid leave for a new child, to take care of a sick family member, or to care for oneself.