Dear Chairman Obey and Chairman Harkin:
As part of a broad coalition of women’s, labor, social justice and work-and-family advocates, we express our strong support for President Obama’s FY 2011 budget proposal to establish a $50 million State Paid Leave Fund within the Department of Labor.
When a personal or family medical crisis strikes, workers frequently have no choice but to take unpaid leave or quit their jobs. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides workers with unpaid, job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks a year to recover from their own serious illness, to care for a newborn, newly adopted or foster child, or to care for a seriously ill family member or injured servicemember in their family.
However, approximately half of all workers are not covered by the FMLA and millions who are covered cannot afford to take advantage of this unpaid leave. In fact, 78 percent of workers who need but do not take FMLA leave, state that they simply cannot afford time off without pay. Nearly one in ten leave-takers – and one in five in low-income families – told researchers they relied on public assistance during their leave. While we ultimately need a national paid family leave program, state paid leave programs would strengthen economic security for working families, improve workplace stability for employers and their workers, relieve public assistance programs and promote better health outcomes for our communities.
All types of workers will benefit from the creation of paid family and medical leave programs. Many workers will use the time provided in state programs to bond with a new child. Paid family and medical leave also help the exponentially growing number of workers who are caring for older family members. Thirty-five percent of workers, both women and men, report they have cared for an older relative in the past year. Finally, paid family and medical leave programs help older workers. Roughly half of Americans 65 years of age and older participate in the labor force; many require time away from work to care for their own health or the health of a family member.
California and New Jersey show that state paid leave programs are indeed possible. Each of these states established family leave insurance programs by expanding their existing state Temporary Disability Insurance programs. The programs are employee-funded through small payroll premiums and offer workers up to six weeks of paid family leave insurance to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or to care for a seriously ill family member. California’s program was implemented in 2004 and approximately 740,000 Californians have taken family leave through the program. New Jersey’s program was established in 2008.
Washington State is uniquely positioned to become the first state without an existing Temporary Disability Insurance program to offer paid family leave insurance. In 2007, Washington approved a paid leave program that when fully implemented will provide wage replacement for new parents. In 2008, funds were appropriated for infrastructure development to administer the program, but funds were frozen after only a few months because of a recession-caused state budget crisis. Federal funding through the State Paid Leave Fund would provide a critical infrastructure investment.
Several other states, including New York, Oregon, New Hampshire and Maine, are laying the groundwork for establishing paid leave programs and would be able to benefit from the State Paid Leave Fund.
A Paid Leave Fund is critical to helping states establish and enhance their paid leave programs. States in the planning process of a paid leave program could use the funding for actuarial or other key studies on paid leave. For states starting a paid leave program, the funding could cover costs for information technology, staffing and program operating budgets. States would be able to access these funds to improve public education about their existing paid leave programs and to enhance those programs as well. We believe this is a wise investment that will help prevent workers from being forced to choose between their own health or their family’s health—and their paycheck or even their job.
When families are struggling and jobs are scarce, workers need paid family and medical leave. Our nation’s working families should not have to risk their financial well-being to care for their health or a family member. We appreciate your past support of policies that help working people take care of their responsibilities on the job and to their family members, and we thank you in advance for your continued support.