March 17, 2015

New York State Assembly Passes Paid Family Leave Act

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Assemblymember Cathy Nolan and Assemblymember Michele Titus today announced the passage of the Paid Family Leave Act that will enable all workers to maintain employment and still receive some income while on leave to care for an elderly relative, manage an unexpected medical emergency, or bond with a newborn or adopted child (A.3870, Nolan).

"The Assembly understands that family comes first. New Yorkers should not have to choose between keeping their jobs and taking care of a sick family member or spending time with a new one," said Heastie. "Through this bill, we uphold our commitment to give families the critical support they need to live healthy, fulfilling lives. When we invest in the health and safety of our families, we invest in the future of New York."

Currently, the federal Family Medical Leave Act provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick relative. However, most employees cannot afford to take unpaid leave from work and only a portion of the workforce is covered under this policy. With people living longer and requiring care in their later years, and assisted living and nursing home options growing fewer and more expensive, options for hard working families are limited. Medical bills and other expenses continue to grow while people are out of work caring for their relatives, despite the lack of income. Allowing employees to earn a portion of their salary during family leave would strengthen the workforce and promote financial stability.

Additionally, there are long term social benefits to paid family leave. Allowing parents time off from work to focus on the arrival of a child and adjust to their new family dynamic is important to the child's development and benefits the entire family.

Assemblymember Nolan, bill sponsor and chair of the Committee on Education, said "The lack of paid family leave is holding New York back. It adds to pay inequality and keeps women out of the work force, which negatively impacts our families and our economy as a whole. This legislation would help families maintain financial security and provide the flexibility they need while caring for loved ones."

Assemblymember Michele Titus, chair of the Committee on Labor, said "Unexpected medical emergencies, childbirth, adoption and care of aging relatives are issues all modern families face, yet many are unable to commit the time and energy necessary to deal with these issues while balancing a full time job. Paid family leave aims to change that."

Besides Hawaii, New York is the only state that has a Temporary Disability Insurance program that has not been expanded to include care of new children and family members. Under this measure, employers would be required to offer a paid family leave benefit and could have workers contribute up to 45 cents per week to the policy. This employee contribution would ensure up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, cover two-thirds of the worker's salary and guarantee job security during the absence.

Mario Cilento, president of NYS AFL-CIO, said "We applaud Assembly Speaker Heastie, Assemblywoman Nolan, Assemblywoman Titus and the Assembly Majority for taking the lead and strengthening family leave benefits. Their efforts give New York the opportunity to set an example for the nation in recognizing the importance of family leave without fear of financial ruin. The improved leave benefits as proposed are long overdue. No one should be forced to choose between nurturing a newborn or caring for a terminally ill family member and financial stability. The Assembly bill would not only do the right thing for working families, it would set the right course for other states to follow."

Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-President of A Better Balance, said "Today's vote in the New York State Assembly brings us one step closer to ensuring that workers no longer have to sacrifice their economic security to care for a new baby or seriously ill loved one. A Better Balance has long believed that ensuring that workers can care for their families when most needed isn't just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do for our families, economy and public health. We applaud the Assembly not only for their progressive vote today, but for their years of leadership on this issue."

Sherry Leiwant, co-president of A Better Balance, said "A Better Balance applauds the Assembly for acting to ensure that working women and men can care for their new children and seriously ill family members without risking their economic security. We know from over 12,000 New Yorkers who have signed our petition urging action on paid family leave that New York's families need to know they will have support at the most critical times in their lives and are looking to their elected representatives in Albany to give them that help."

Nancy Rankin, vice president for Policy Research at Community Service Society, said "Paid Family Leave is an economic necessity for all of New York's families, but especially for working women and those struggling to survive on low wages. Success in states where it is already in place, polls showing widespread support by New Yorkers across party lines, and now this vote by the New York Assembly, show that Paid Family Leave is an idea whose time has come."