Budget Committee Approves Measure To Boost Insurance Benefits for Family/Medical Care
TRENTON – Legislation authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Patrick Diegnan to expand New Jersey’s Paid Family Leave Law was approved by a Senate committee today. The bill, S-3085, would expand the successful program that allows employees to take time from work to care for newborn children or for sick family members. The legislation, approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, 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 90 percent, subject to the maximum of 78 percent of the statewide average wage for all workers. This year, the cap on weekly benefits is $633, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, an amount that increases annually as the statewide average wage grows. If the bill were implemented this year the cap on weekly benefits would be $932.
“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 Diegnan. “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.”
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 bill would also:
A. expand the definition of family to include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, and parents-in-law;
B. include job protections after June 30, 2018 for employees working for employers who employ 20 or more employees, reduced from the current threshold of 50 or more employees;
C. provide FLI for any worker who engages in activities for which unpaid leave is provided under the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (NJ SAFE) to assist family members of the worker who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault;
D. add reporting, outreach and claim determination goals from the Department of Labor & Workforce Development.
The current 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.
The committee vote was 7-5-1.
Senator Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr.
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