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Legislative Memo: In Support of an ACT to Provide Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Injury or Sickness, Pregnancy or Family Leave

When a family welcomes a new child or a family member has a medical emergency, many New York workers face a difficult dilemma.

If they are among the 60 percent of workers covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), they have the option of taking time off from their jobs unpaid. But if a worker can’t afford to forego the pay, the family is without a care giver at a time of urgent need.

The Paid Family Leave Insurance Act (S.4742-B) would guarantee workers up to twelve weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member.

The NYCLU strongly supports a family leave insurance policy that helps working families in New York make sound choices about having children and caring for one another.
Many New Yorkers are unable to take time off from work when a new child is born or adopted, or a loved one has a medical emergency. In fact nationwide only 12 percent of employees receive paid family leave from their employers.

While the federal FMLA allows employees of large companies to take twelve weeks of unpaid leave, that law only covers approximately 60 percent of all workers in the United States. And those employees who are covered often cannot afford to lose the pay – for them, the family leave benefit is no benefit at all.

This legislation would establish a paid family leave insurance benefit that is administered through the state’s Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) program, a longstanding insurance system familiar to New York businesses.

Established in 1950, the TDI system provides temporary cash benefits for workers injured off the job or for disabilities arising from a pregnancy.

When this new benefit is fully phased in, workers who need time off to care for a loved one could apply for family leave benefits through TDI and receive a “wage replacement” for two-thirds of their average weekly wage for up to 12 weeks.

And while TDI is jointly funded by employers and employees, the paid family leave benefit will be financed solely through small employee payroll deductions of up to 45 cents a week in the first year.

S.4742-B also contains a critical modernization of our TDI benefit program. Since 1989, workers have been able to claim up to $170 a week in temporary disability insurance benefits. While other states have raised benefits to reflect increased in the cost of living, New York’s benefit level has remained unchanged for 25 years.

This legislation would phase in, over a period of four years, increases in the TDI and paid family leave benefit levels – up to a maximum benefit level equaling 50 percent of the state’s average weekly wage.

Based on this formula, the maximum weekly benefit in 2012 would have been $603. In a state where the cost of living has gone up 88 percent since TDI was last raised, in 1989, and where the minimum wage is $8 per hour, no family can hope to cover even the minimum cost of housing and food on the $170.

This long-overdue increase will make the TDI benefit a meaningful one – for those who suffer temporary disabilities on the job and for those who need to take leave to care for a loved one.

Over the past several decades, New York’s workplaces and families have changed dramatically – there are more women in the paid workforce than ever before; in most families, both parents have outside jobs; many households are headed by single parents; and family members are living longer and require more care in the latter part of their lives.

Given these realities, paid family leave is essential to the health and well-being of New York’s workforce — especially those who live paycheck to paycheck and lack job security.

This benefit will provide critical support to women, who disproportionately bear the burden of both child care and elder care. For less than a cup of coffee per week for each worker who pays into the system, all workers can receive a paid family leave benefit.

And the benefits of paid leave accrue to employers as well. Research has found that the availability of paid family leave helps businesses retain valued employees, reduce turnover, boost productivity, and increase loyalty and morale among workers.

This is particularly true for small business settings, where colleagues work closely together. In fact, paid family leave will help small businesses remain competitive and retain talented employees by providing a benefit that is currently offered only to employees of large companies.

And for businesses that already provide paid family leave, a state paid leave program will help to offset existing costs.

As with the TDI program, employers will be able to provide paid family leave through the state insurance fund, or they can choose to provide family leave to their employees on their own or through a private insurer and seek reimbursement for some of the cost.

The United States is the only developed nation that does not provide paid family leave, putting us in the company of Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. Some states, however, are changing that.

Individual states, however, are leading the way in developing paid-leave policies that support workers and their families. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have successfully integrated paid family leave into their TDI programs; studies show that an overwhelming number of employers found a positive to neutral impact on business, productivity, and employee morale.

Lawmakers have an opportunity to promote healthy families and a stable workforce with the adoption of a Paid Family Leave Insurance Program. This law will ensure that no New Yorker has to choose between a paycheck and the health and well-being of his or her family.

The Assembly passed the measure (A.1793-B/Nolan) on March 5, 2014. Now it is time for the Senate to finish the job. The NYCLU urges the Senate to pass S.4742-B and make paid family leave a reality for all New York workers.

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