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Family leave insurance aligns with American values, needs


(Jan. 28, 2016) — As Americans, we strongly value both work and family… but as citizens we’ve structured our economy and laws too often to force people to work at the expense of their families.

mother-with-baby_family-leaveWe have given millions of parents the cold choice of leaving their job and not getting any pay when they have a baby or figuring out how to hand over their precious newborn child to others to care for, in order to go to work to pay the rent (and child care).

Back in 2007, the State Senate, with Democrats leading and two Republicans joining in, passed Family Leave Insurance with a funding source, a two cent per hour payroll premium. But when it got to the Democratic House, the majority party balked, stripped the funding source and set up a committee to discuss and recommend how to implement Family Leave Insurance. And then the fiscal crisis hit, the Legislature was paralyzed, and both Democrats and Republicans abandoned any pretext of helping working families balance the economic realities of caring for a newborn while holding onto your job.

Taking care of newborns or newly adopted children hasn’t gotten any easier since 2007. Our population has continued to age, meaning more workers have elderly parents or spouses — or are encountering more health problems themselves. Wages have stagnated, jobs have disappeared, and the cost of child care, especially for infants, has skyrocketed. We need family leave insurance now more than ever. Some companies, like Google, and Microsoft, have stepped up with expanded parental leave for their employees, the vast majority of which are high income professionals. As to the rest of the workers in the state… you are on your own.

State Rep. June Robinson (D-Everett) is one legislator who is stepping up for the children, and workers of our state. She wasn’t in the State Legislature in 2007, so she brings a new reality and new wisdom to family leave insurance. Her bill, HB 1273, would provide 12 weeks of leave for the birth or adoption of a child or to care for a seriously ill family member. A worker taking family leave would receive 2/3rds of her wages for those 12 weeks, capped at $1,000 a week.

This family leave insurance is financed by two-tenths of a percent payroll premium, paid by both workers and their employers. It also covers workers’ own serious injuries or illnesses, so that if you are struck by cancer or in a serious accident and can’t go to work, you get this insurance. If you are forced to go on bed rest before you give birth, to protect the life of the child-to-be and your own health, you also get this insurance.

Washington’s common sense proposal is modeled after successful programs in other states. Rep. Robinson has been joined by 25 other state representatives, as well as Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) and five other senators, in sponsoring this legislation. Last year the bill made it through the House Labor Committee, only to be bottled up in the House Appropriations Committee. But this year Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish) is chairing the House Appropriations Committee, and he is more inclined than the previous chair to bring up this family leave insurance bill in his committee. That is the next step toward eventual passage.

actionTAKE A STAND! Washington voters deserve to know whether their elected leaders will stand up and support our families. Please take a moment right now to ask your state representative to push for a hearing on HB 1273 in the House Appropriations Committee.

So maybe there is hope for an actual law with actual funding for the parents of newborns and newly adopted children, enabling them to care for, nurture, and teach these youngest children, without having to juggle credit cards statements, bills, and bank balances. This bill brings hope for our elderly who want their loved ones gathered near during their final weeks. It extends a lifeline for the woman diagnosed with breast cancer.

Family leave insurance is a completely American solution, like Social Security. The people who are the beneficiaries have already paid into the system, the pool of workers who are covered is universal, no one gets a free ride, and all of us get the security and financial footing we need when we bring home a new baby.


It is good for your neighbors, your friends, and your family. It is good for us!

John Burbank is the executive director and founder of the Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle. John can be reached at

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