In a nutshell, the president is requesting $5 million to be used as grants to states that are considering paid family leave programs. So far, only two states have paid family leave programs--California and New Jersey. These two states legally entitle new parents to stay home from their jobs with their babies for up to six weeks with partial pay.
Why do we need to give states financial incentives? Can’t they do this on their own?
It’s harder than you might think. In Washington, for example, a paid family leave law is already on the books, but it hasn’t been implemented yet. Why? They have to figure out how they’re going to pay for it. Unlike California and New Jersey, Washington doesn’t have a state disability program, so the state has to find another way to fund parental leave. As you can imagine, it’s proving to be harder than they thought.
Besides California and New Jersey, only three other states have disability programs. A little cash from the feds might help get things rolling. It’s not just a matter of paying the new parents a partial salary--creating a parental leave program is a process involving hiring people, introducing legislation, researching, creating budgets….all of those things take money and time.
But it’s worth it. Consider:
- about 11% of employees have access to some kind of paid family leave from their employers, and less than 40% can use their employer’s disability insurance to provide paid leave
- national, unpaid but job-protected leave is not available to everyone. The eligibility loopholes written into the law mean that just over half of working women qualify to take FMLA leave. Even those who can legally take time off often can’t afford to go very long without pay, if at all. Only 42 percent of working mothers stay home during the first twelve weeks of their children’s lives.
- longer parental leaves are correlated with better newborn health, better mental health for mothers, and better relationships between children and fathers.
- paid parental leave benefits business by improving retention rates—it’s cheaper to pay a worker to take some family time than it is to find a new worker
- paid parental leave saves government and taxpayers money by reducing health care costs, food stamp usage, and other types of public assistance
I hope paid family leave remains a priority in the budget, and I hope states take advantage of the opportunity to give working families more time together.