In his State of the State address on Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for the passage of legislation that would ensure that state residents can take 12 weeks of paid family leave for a new child or a serious illness.
Toward the end of his speech, he shared the story of caring for his late father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, at the end of his life last year. “Life is such a precious gift,” he said. “I have kicked myself every day that I didn’t spend more time with my father at that end period. I could have — I’m lucky, I could have taken off of work.”
But he noted that many people in the state “don’t have that choice” because they risk getting fired or losing their pay if they take time off. “At the end of the day, family matters. Intimate relationships matter,” he said. “Let this state make a statement of what’s really important… Let’s pass family leave this session.”
While the legislature would still have to pass a bill, Cuomo’s backing could help bring it to fruition, as he has pushed through a number of other priorities. “The Governor’s commitment brings us one step closer to making paid family leave a reality, and ensuring that all New Yorkers can securely savor the joys and weather the inevitable crises that life delivers,” said Sherry Leiwant and Dina Bakst in a statement, co-founders of the paid leave advocacy group A Better Balance.
A bill to implement paid family leave has been introduced in New York before and has passed the state Assembly. Under that legislation, workers would be able to get two-thirds of their average weekly wages while on leave up to a maximum weekly benefit of about $600, a cap that would gradually rise over four years.
The United States is virtually alone among developed countries in not guaranteeing paid maternity and paternity leave. Three states, however, have implemented paid family leave programs: California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.
New York already has a Temporary Disability Insurance program that allows women to take some paid time off during pregnancy and after childbirth. But fathers and non-biological mothers can’t take the leave, nor can it be used to care for a seriously ill family member. Meanwhile, the benefits are small, capped at $170 a week for the last 25 years. Just five states have TDI programs, and notably three of them are the states that have passed paid family leave and added it to the administration of the insurance programs.
New York would be a significant addition to that list, increasing the number of states to four and covering thousands of people. Across the country, however, just 12 percent of the workforce gets paid family leave at work.
States that have paid leave have also acted as experiments in the effects of paid family leave. And thus far the evidence shows that it hasn’t hurt the state economies. The vast majority of California businesses report that paid leave has had either a positive impact on their profitability, employee performance, and productivity or no impact at all, while employment growth has outpaced the national average by 2 percentage points since it was enacted. The majority of New Jersey businesses say it hasn’t hurt their bottom lines.