One State Wants To Give New Parents More Money And More Time Off Than Any Other
This summer, Washington became the fifth state to pass a family leave act. In the United States, all employers are required by federal law to give new parents (birth and adopted) 12 weeks off work. That sounds pretty good, but there are a few problems. The main one: That time off doesn't have to be paid.
Yet nothing ramps up the stress of welcoming a new baby quite like losing a steady paycheck. Thankfully, more and more companies are stepping up to offer paid time off for new moms, dads, and even employees who need to take time away to help a sick or dying family member. But the overall coverage is still subpar, with over 100 million American workers having no access to paid leave.
It's left legislators on the city and state levels scrambling to fill in the gaps.
California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York were the first states to act. But Washington, the most recent, has them all beat. Washington's version of family leave passed this summer after more than a decade of debate, and will go into effect in 2020.
Here are three key reasons it represents a huge step forward in how we think about family leave:
1. Most employers are required to chip in.
Family leave acts in the other four states are either mostly or entirely funded by employees themselves. But companies in Washington will also pay into a fund — about half the amount that their employees do. (It's only a few dollars per week, but it's enough to fund the entire program.) If a company has under 50 employees or already provides generous paid leave options, it can opt out of the government program.
Getting extra help from employers means more money to go around, which also means…
2. Better coverage for low-income workers.
As is usually the case, low-income families suffer the most from improper paid leave. Washington remedies that by offering to pay up to 90% of a worker's salary for 12 weeks of leave if that salary is below the state average. (Compare that to Rhode Island's program, which dishes out about 60% of your salary for only four weeks.)
There's also coverage for the not-insignificant number of people who are self-employed — about 15 million people in the United States work for themselves.
3. It helps everyone, not just parents.
The big boost in benefits — and the length of those benefits — opens up family leave to more than just new moms who are physically incapable of returning to work immediately after giving birth. It encourages people to take time away to care for a family member, to fully recuperate from a major illness, or to grieve a serious loss.
Turns out, taking care of our physical and mental health is actually better for our productivity.
Washington's plan isn't perfect. Ideally, no one would have to choose between taking a percentage of their salary and taking the time off their family needs.
But this plan, inspired by what other states have done, has expanded the definition of adequate coverage. It'll continue to serve as a building block for even better legislation in the future.
"This is a revolutionary bill," parenting advocate Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner told The Seattle Times. "This is going to break down the walls for other states."
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