The Star-Ledger

Families Get More Time, Cash Under Paid Leave Bill

The Star-Ledger — February 1, 2019

By Dena Mottola Jaborska
Star-Ledger Guest Columnist

This past week our state Legislature passed a bill that will greatly expand and improve New Jersey's paid family leave insurance program. Gov. Phil Murphy supports the bill (S2528/A3975) , and when he signs it into law, we will have something important to celebrate.

When the New Jersey Family Leave Insurance Program (FLI) went into effect nearly 10 years ago, it was meant to ensure families' economic security when wage earners need to take leave to bond with new children or care for seriously ill family members. But the program has failed to live up to its promise and as a result, it has been woefully underutilized.

One reason for that is that the Christie administration did little to promote the program and public awareness was consistently low. And, many workers who did know of the program were unable to access it, either because they could not afford to, or because the individuals they needed to care for were not covered in the program.

This bill makes many necessary fixes to change these problems and to make overall improvements. As a result, more working people in New Jersey will be able to use the program when they need it, which is especially good news since all employees in the state pay into the program.

The bill:

Despite these improvements, the bill misses the mark on at least one essential change: job protection. If New Jersey wants to truly lead on paid family leave with a program that all workers can access, then our Legislature should follow the example of New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which guarantee workers who participate in paid family leave programs will have a job to return to when their leave is over.

The bill on the governor's desk expands job protection to cover only an additional 200,000 workers employed at companies with between 30 and 50 employees (currently only workers at companies with 50 or more have their jobs protected). This still leaves an estimated 800,000 New Jersey workers without any promise that they would have a job to return to if they take leave. Most workers cannot afford to risk losing their jobs entirely, even when faced with pressing caregiving responsibilities.

Job protection is a necessary component of any paid family leave program. Since states began offering paid family leave we have learned a lot. We know benefits do not stop with the person taking the leave. They include improved health outcomes for newborns and recovering family members, increased economic security for families, reduced reliance on public assistance, and even benefits to businesses' bottom lines. But for many households, in particular low-income and single-breadwinner households, paid family leave is not a benefit, it's a necessity. Without job protection these workers remain marginalized and New Jersey as a state can't reap the full benefits of paid family leave.

Those who championed this bill deserve our praise for making so many important changes to the New Jersey's paid family leave program. But the work of making the program accessible to all is not yet done. We urge the New Jersey Legislature to take additional steps in the near future to fulfill the promise of a paid family leave program for all workers. No one should have to choose between a paycheck and bonding with a new child or caring for a seriously ill loved one.

Dena Mottola Jaborska is the associate director of New Jersey Citizen Action and the co-convener of the New Jersey Time to Care Coalition.

Top Top | NJCA in the News | NJCA Homepage