Last week, the New York state Assembly voted by a wide margin in favor of a paid family leave proposal, 84 to 40.
The bill would give the state’s workers 12 weeks of paid time off for the arrival of a new child, a serious illness, or to care for a sick family member, during which they would be guaranteed half of their normal pay. Employers would be required to buy family leave insurance, but the premiums would be offset by employee contributions of up to 45 cents a paycheck. Currently, the state doesn’t guarantee paid family leave, although its Temporary Disability Insurance program does offer some payment for those who use it for a new child or illness.
The proposal isn’t guaranteed to become law, as it now heads to the Republican-controlled state Senate. But Sen. Jeff Klein (D), who leads a coalition of independent Democrats who have joined Republicans for majority control, introduced his own family leave bill in February that would give workers six weeks of paid leave at half of their weekly earnings, but wouldn’t add any costs to employers and would instead be paid for first with state funding and then with employee contributions. The more traditional Democrats are also proposing a bill. Still, though, state lawmakers tried to pass family leave legislation in both 2005 and 2007, when the Assembly passed bills, which only ended up blocked in the Republican-controlled Senate.
If the bill were to prevail and become law, however, it would be momentous. Only three states in the country currently guarantee paid family leave: California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. A few others are working toward similar policies alongside New York, Nebraska and Minnesota among them.
This makes the United States unique: it is one of just six countries in the world that doesn’t ensure that all new mothers can take paid family leave. Employers of a certain size are instead required to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but that means just 12 percent of workers get paid time off through their employers. The rest struggle to make ends meet when they need time off. A quarter of women who need leave for a new child either quit or are let go, and of those who receive only partial pay or no pay during their time off, a third have to borrow money and/or dip into savings and 15 percent have to go on public assistance to scrape by.
A national law that would ensure all workers could take 12 paid weeks off for a new child or an illness was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in December. That proposal wouldn’t add costs to employers: workers would pay 0.2 percent of their wages into the program in order to receive about two-thirds of their normal pay while taking time off, capped at $1,000 a week.