Paid Family Leave: Why Won’t More States Buy In?

There are lots of reasons I’m proud of my oft-maligned state, New Jersey. Beautiful beaches. Green hills. Gritty cities. More people per square inch to get to know. Here’s another: we may become the third state in the country after California and Washington to provide paid family leave for employees who need to take time off from work to care for a family member.

Do you remember the nasty SUV accident NJ Governor Jon Corzine survived? (He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt while his state trooper driver was speeding to Don Imus’ mea culpa meeting with the Rutgers’ University women’s basketball team that he racially denigrated on air.) During his long recovery, Corzine learned a few things, including this as his children and companion left work to be by his side 24/7:

“All of us had the (financial) capacity to be able to do that,” he told the Star-Ledger. “Not everybody does.”

You’ve got that right, Gov.

Paid family leave is not just for new parents. It’s for anyone who gets a call on a Tuesday that her 85-year-old mom has had a stroke a three-hour flight away. It’s for the employee who needs to stop and help a terminally ill family member but can’t afford to forgo the pay to do it. And, yes, women are the ones who would take advantage of it most—80 percent of the claims for paid leave in California, the only state to offer it, are taken by women.

Since the employer-funded system was put into play in July 2004, it has not been abused, and it hasn’t devastated small businesses as opponents argued. Under the law, workers can receive about 55 percent of their wages capped at $882 a week for up to six weeks while caring for a seriously ill parent, child, spouse or domestic partner, or while bonding with a new child. One-third of the requests have been related to surgery, 18 percent to cancer, and 10 percent for circulatory-related diseases.

New Jersey‘s law also would require workers to use vacation time before taking family leave, and it would limit payments to a max of $502 a week for up to 10 weeks. Like the California program, it would be paid for through employee payroll deductions ($1 a week each.) I don’t get how anyone can argue against a program funded by employees to meet the needs of employees at difficult moments in their lives. Moments most of us will find ourselves facing at some point during our professional lives.

Passage of the law is not a given, with biz groups lobbying hard against it. We’ll see if Jersey comes through on this one. Don’t you think it’s time more states tried an employee-funded approach? Exactly what is there to lose?

Corzine says his crash focused him on issue [The Star-Ledger/]

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