The Stand

Federal grant to study funding family leave in Washington

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mother-with-baby_family-leaveOLYMPIA (Sept. 30, 2015) — Advocates for paid family and medical leave on Tuesday applauded the U.S. Department of Labor’s decision to award $247,000 to study the economic impacts of implementing a paid family and medical leave program in Washington state.

“The Washington Work and Family Coalition is excited by this news and what it could mean for the families of our state,” said Marilyn Watkins, policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute. “I’ve gotten calls from pregnant women who don’t know how they’ll be able to afford more than a couple weeks off after giving birth, from people struggling to help an aging parent through a health crisis while going to work and tending to their own kids, from small business owners who would love to find a way to provide employees with 12 weeks of paid family leave – but just can’t do it on their own.”

For well over a decade, the Coalition — composed of women’s, health, senior, children’s, faith, small business, and labor organizations including the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO — has advocated for paid family and medical leave.

robinson-june“From a public health standpoint, the evidence for paid leave is overwhelming,” said Rep. June Robinson (D-Everett), sponsor of HB 1273 to establish family and medical leave insurance (FMLI). “Babies are healthier for the long term when they are breast fed and their parents can stay home with them for the first several months. Adults are healthier and more productive when they have adequate leave to recover from their own serious health conditions or care for sick family members, without the stress of family financial crisis.”

HB 1273 and companion SB 5459 would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, or for their own serious health condition. Benefits would be provided through a trust fund, financed through payroll premiums of about $65 per year for the state’s typical worker and their employer. In 2007, the Legislature passed a stripped down version of paid family leave that only provided 5 weeks for new parents and did not identify a funding source. Because of the recession, the program was postponed indefinitely rather than being implemented as intended in 2009.

Washington is one of eight states receiving Department of Labor grants.

keiser-karen“I think the research from this grant is just what we need to get family leave ‘unstuck’, and I applaud Governor Inslee’s leadership on this,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent), current sponsor of SB 5459 and prime sponsor of the 2007 bill. “Showing people just how much the state can save on public assistance, child care subsidies, and home care for seniors, along with how much more effective programs like home visiting can be will help some of legislators on both sides of the aisle understand the full benefits of family and medical leave insurance.”

Gov. Inslee said all other industrialized nation has figured out a way to provide their citizens paid family leave and Washington state can lead the way in America:

Paid family leave is one of the most important things we can do for working families. Though our state’s economy is growing, economic insecurity remains a real challenge for many of Washington’s working families. Workers often face no-win decisions about returning to work and sacrificing time to care for and bond with a new infant or provide medical care for an ill or aging partner or parent. They simply can’t afford to take time off. Every other industrialized nation has developed an effective tool to help employers and employees with this challenge — so can we.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) added:

No one should be forced to choose between their paycheck and taking care of their family during a medical crisis. This announcement is great news for Washington state’s efforts to expand paid leave, and the grant will help administrators understand how to best implement effective programs that work for families and our economy. I am proud that Washington state is leading the way in working to expand access to paid leave programs, and I’m going to keep fighting in Washington, D.C. to move forward with pro-family policies that would reward, not punish family members for taking care of themselves and loved ones.

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