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Testimony on Policies to Assist Working Families in New York State

Testimony of the New York Civil Liberties Union before the New York State Senate Committee on Social Services and Committee on Labor, regarding policies to assist working families in New York State.

March 24, 2015

The New York Civil Liberties Union would like to thank the Committees on Social Services and Labor for the opportunity to provide testimony in support of polices that assist working families in New York, and in particular, the establishment of a statewide paid family leave program. We thank you for your leadership on an issue that is so critical for women and families in New York State.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (‘NYCLU’), the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization with eight offices across the state, and nearly 50,000 members. The NYCLU’s mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles, rights, and constitutional values embodied in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York. This includes the right to equal opportunities that is the foundation of policies that seek to advance gender equity and fairness in our society. To this end, the NYCLU strongly supports a paid family leave policy that helps working families in New York make sound choices about having children and caring for one another.

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 workers can’t afford to forego the pay – which is often the Case1 – their families are without a caregiver at a time of urgent need. The fact is, only 12 percent of employees nationwide receive paid family leave from their employers.2

Given that the vast majority of care giving continues to be provided by women, the lack of paid family leave is not only a matter of economic justice – it is an injustice that implicates constitutional principles of gender equality.

The Paid Family Leave Act (S.3004/A.3870) would guarantee workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member. This legislation would establish a paid family leave 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.3

The proposed legislation 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 cost of living, New York’s benefit level has remained unchanged for over 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 when fully phased in would be approximately $600. 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 $8.75 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 the cost of 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.4 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.5 Indeed, a Small Business Majority poll found that 8 in 10 small businesses in New York support expanding the state’s disability insurance program to provide paid family leave.6 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.7

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 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 neutral to positive impact on business, productivity, and employee morale.8

Lawmakers have an opportunity to promote equal opportunities for women, healthy families, and a stable workforce with the adoption of a paid family leave program. This law will ensure that no New Yorker has to choose between a paycheck and the health and well-being of her family. The NYCLU urges our State Legislature to make paid family leave a reality for all New York workers.



1 J.A. Klerman, et al., Family and Medical Leave in 2012: Technical Report, Abt Associates for U.S. Dep’t of Labor (Sept. 2012), at 161, available at:

2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Compensation Survey: Employee Benefits in the United States, March 2013 (released Sept. 2013) at 108 (table 32, leave benefits for civilian workers), available at:

3 In subsequent years, New York’s Superintendent of Financial Services will determine the amount of employee contributions based on the cost per worker of providing paid family leave through the state insurance fund. A report from the Fiscal Policy Institute estimated the midpoint range of benefit contributions for an employee when the legislation is fully phased in at 88 cents per week. Reform of New York’s Temporary Disability Insurance Program and Provision of Family Leave Insurance: Estimated Costs of Proposed Legislation, A Fiscal Policy Institute Report, June 2, 2014, at 12, available at in New Jersey for 2014 the weekly employee contribution for the paid family leave benefit is 60 cents).

4 A recent study showed that an overwhelming majority of California employers believe PFL has had a positive or neutral effect on their business. See R. Milkman & E. Appelbaum, Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy (2013), at 68-72; E. Appelbaum & R. Milkman, Leaves that Pay: Employer and Worker Experiences with Paid Family Leave in California, Ctr. for Econ. & Policy Resear ch (Jan. 2011) at 4, 8; see also E. Rudd, Family Leave: A Policy Concept Made in America, Sloan Work and Family Research Network (2004), available at

5 See E. Appelbaum & R. Milkman, Achieving a Workable Balance, Rutgers Ctr. for Women & Work (2006) at 23.

6 Small Business Majority, Opinion Poll: New York Small Businesses Support Family Medical Leave (Dec. 2013), at 7, available at: Leave-NY-poll-report.pdf.

7 N.Y. Workers’ Comp. Law § 211.

8 See note 4, supra (describing findings from surveys and studies of California employers regarding PFL).


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