The Star-Ledger

Give Families A Hand

The Star-Ledger — Tuesday, December 5, 2006


At one time, if children became seriously ill or elderly parents needed full-time care, a relative was able to step in to help. Today when most work, that help is less likely to be available. That's why state Sen. Stephen Sweeney's bill to provide paid family leave for New Jersey workers is so appealing.

Under his bill, public and private employees could take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a seriously ill family member such as a child, a spouse or a parent or to care for a newborn or newly adopted child.

Money for the paid family leave would come from a tax on employees that would be fed into the state disability fund.

Sweeney, a Democrat from South Jersey who is a union representative, originally proposed taxing employers but modified his proposal to put the burden on employees who would pay one-tenth of 1 percent of their salaries. The average person would pay $50 a year. Those who take family leave, after meeting certain criteria, would essentially receive the same money they would get if they were on disability, which is no more than $488 a week.

State and federal law for years has required employers to grant employees unpaid family leave for medical emergencies. Sweeney's proposal means people who previously could not afford to take advantage of family leave would be able to do so. Twenty-five percent of the households in New Jersey, for example, are headed by single parents, many of whom can't afford to take family leave, no matter how dire their situation.

While business and industry continue to oppose the Sweeney bill, this is the sort of adjustment that society must make now that nuclear families with a June Cleaver-like mom at home are no longer the norm in America.

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