Focus On Benefits For Family/Medical Care

Sentinel — June 7, 2017

A roundtable discussion on efforts to expand New Jersey's Paid Family Leave law was held on Tuesday, May 9th. Senator Sweeney and Senator Diegnan are sponsors of legislation that would expand the program that allows employees to take time from work to care for newborn children or for sick family members. The bill, S-3085, would increase the amount of the weekly benefit and lengthen the leave time under the insurance program currently in place.

The number of weeks of benefits would be extended from six to 12 in any one-year period and, in cases of intermittent leave, the maximum number of days is increased from 42 to 84. The weekly benefits would increase from two-thirds of a worker's average weekly wage to 90 percent, subject to the maximum of 67 percent of the statewide average wage for all workers. This year, the cap on weekly benefits is $677, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, an amount that increases annually as the statewide average wage grows. Under the proposal, that cap would increase to roughly $800 per week.

The original paid family leave law, put New Jersey in the forefront as the second state in the country to provide for paid leave. The 2009 law gives workers six weeks off to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, or a sick parent, spouse or child with up to two-thirds pay, capped at the weekly limit. New Jersey is one of only three states that currently offer paid family and medical leave. California and Rhode Island are the others. New York will join them in 2018.

The increases under this proposed legislation would go into effect on July 1, 2018. The costs of the insurance benefits, which are funded exclusively by employee contributions and are administered through the state's unemployment insurance fund, will not increase because of changes in the method of calculating the rate of contributions and by ending of diversions from the temporary disability insurance fund. Employees will not pay any more in their contribution to the Family Leave and Temporary Disability funds than when the paid leave program started in 2009. The current employee contribution of approximately 50 cents a week is limited to a maximum of $33.50 this year.

The eight-year program has succeeded with employees and businesses. Three out of four workers say they view the program favorably, and support crosses gender, race/ ethnicity, age, marital status, union affiliation, employment status and income. The majority of both small and large businesses say they have adjusted easily, according to a Rutgers study.

Positive outcomes for businesses include improved employee morale and worker retention. The leaves also result in reduced public assistance, allow parents to arrange \0xA6 for long-term child care, get fathers involved in child care, and improve the health and wellbeing of the children and parents.

Also participating in the forum were: Charlie Wowkanech, President, AFL-CIO; Eric Richards, Legislative Affairs Coordinator, AFL-CIO; Dena Mottola Jaborska, Associate Director, NJ Citizen Action; Jon Whitten, Vice President, NJ Policy Perspective; Karen White, Executive Director, Rutgers Center for Women and Work; Ev Liebman, AARP; and Brian Shott, NJ Government Relations Director, American Cancer Society.

"Research shows that an expansion of the existing NJ Family Leave Insurance program will be especially important to low-income families and to working women who so often carry the responsibilities of caring for newborns, for other children and, their family members as well as holding a job. They are caregivers and breadwinners at. the same time. A study conducted by Rutgers Center for Women and Work shows thaP providing paid family leave leads to positive economic outcomes for working families,1 businesses, and the public," said Karen White, Director, Working Families Program," Rutgers Center for Women and Work.

"Nearly everyone needs paid family or medical leave at some point in their lives, whether it's to care for a new child, an aging parent, or themselves. Paid family leave' provides critical support to family caregivers, allowing them to take care of our aging, parents, spouses and other family members without worrying about losing their job or' all their income," stated Ev Liebman, AARP.

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