TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Patrick Diegnan today announced that they will introduce legislation to expand New Jersey’s Paid Family Leave Law, the successful program that allows employees to take time from work to care for newborn children or for sick family members. The legislation will increase the amount of the weekly benefit and lengthen the leave time under the insurance program currently in place.
“Family leave insurance can be a lifeline for working families and their loved ones,” said Senator Sweeney. “They'll get help they need to balance the obligations of job and family in stressful economic times. This is a pro-family bill that allows workers to meet their health and family needs without jeopardizing their economic security.''
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 80 percent, subject to the maximum of 53 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.
“Expanding family leave benefits helps to address the needs of working people who face the demands of supporting their families at the same time they experience the responsibilities of caring for their children or other family members,” said Senator Deignan. “This is an insurance program that supports working families during emergency circumstances when their loved ones experience serious medical problems. It is a compassionate program with practical benefits.”
Senator Sweeney authored the original paid family leave law, which 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 can be proud of the fact that we were one of the first states in the country to enact a paid family leave law and that even now we are one of only three states with paid leave for families," said Senator Sweeney. “But we can do better by expanding on the success to help families at critically-import times in their lives. By keeping New Jersey in the forefront on this issue we are keeping the needs of working families a priority.”
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, after passing the Paid Family Leave Benefits Law in 2016. All four state programs are funded through employee-paid payroll taxes and administered through their respective disability programs.
The increases under Senator Sweeney’s legislation would go into effect on July 1, 2017. 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.
“This expansion 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 holding a job,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. “They are caregivers and breadwinners at the same time. This bill will give them more time and more money to help them meet the demands they experience.”
The eight-year program has succeeded with employees and businesses, but Senator Sweeney and Senator Diegnan believe that greater public awareness resulting from the program’s expansion will increase participation rates.
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 for long-term child care, get fathers involved in child care, and improve the health and wellbeing of the children and parents.
Unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides job protections, but it is available to fewer than 50 percent of workers — and many can’t afford to take it.