Me, rallying for Family Leave Insurance in New York State
New York is about to become the fourth state to provide paid family and medical leave. And like the plans enacted in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, this benefit is funded through a small payroll deduction into a state-wide insurance fund. As an advocate for working parents and a business school professor who works closely with employers, I am excited by this news.
With this Paid Family Leave policy, everyone pays in a small amount, and then, when one needs a family-related (most commonly a maternity or paternity leave) or medical leave (care for self or for a family member), they can draw from this insurance fund for wage replacement of two-thirds of one’s income, up to about $850 per week, during an up to 12-week leave. The law also provides job protections for those using leave.
The “insurance-model” funding mechanism for paid family leave is really smart. Employers are not penalized by having to pay employees who are on leave. Instead, their only costs are providing the time off and holding the position open.
Further, as Family Leave Insurance covers a wide range of situations, everyone pays in and everyone can potentially benefit. Even those who don’t use this program have the peace of mind that they are covered in case of emergency. I’m reminded of the saying- the best insurance is insurance you never have to use.
As this is not just a parental leave policy, it also covers those who may be hospitalized, those who need to care for spouses, and those who care for their elder parents. It covers everyone, and it applies equally to men and women.
And all it costs is an annual payroll deduction of, at most, $28 a year. A pretty good investment if you ask me.
Enacting paid family leave also demonstrates a few important principles in how family-supportive policies can and should be advanced.
While women have been at the forefront of promoting work-family policy, approaches that include male leadership, explicitly include parents as well as non-parents, and apply to men as well as women are likely to be more effective. Framing parental leave as only or primarily a working mother’s issue reduces the number of allies one can get on board and makes it easier for institutionalized sexism to provide resistance.
The personal experience of leaders is critical. Governor Cuomo has stated that his commitment to family leave stemmed from his ability to be present during the last few weeks before his father’s death. This reinforced for him how important this time is for everyone- not just people as fortunate as him.
The fact that this policy covers more than just childbirth means that its provisions are applicable to many more people. As non-parents can use this policy to care for spouses and their own parents, it lessens the most frequently-voiced objection to parental leave policies- the notion that those without kids are forced to subsidize those that chose to have them.
Family-supportive social policy needs to balance the concerns of employers and employees. This is why I support the insurance funding model rather than alternatives that are funded through employers or corporate taxation.
When there is political will, change can come quickly. The first time Governor Cuomo officially proposed Paid Family Leave was during his January “State of the State” address in January. Family Leave Insurance was approved in the State budget on April 1st.
Today, I am even more proud to be a New Yorker.
What do you think about Paid Family Leave? Any stories to share? Let’s discuss in the comments.
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