By Gabriel Rom
A bill that would increase paid family leave benefits passed its first hurdle in the state Assembly last week.
The bill, co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood) and state Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), now heads to the GOP-controlled state Senate, where the it has died in prior years.
Paid family leave provides workers with paid time off to care for family members or a newborn, or to address certain issues arising from a family member’s military service. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees eligible workers 12 weeks of time off without fear of getting fired, but there is no requirement to pay an employee. Under the Assembly’s legislation, she said, private employers would be required to provide a paid family leave benefit, and workers would contribute up to 45 cents per week to the policy. That employee contribution would ensure up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, which would cover two-thirds of the worker’s salary and guarantee job security during the absence.
“Families are the foundation of our society,” Nolan said. “We need to do everything we can to help these hardworking individuals balance family and work without compromising their economic security. This legislation would help maintain the integrity of every working family in New York… In this era of extreme inequality, our efforts must be laser-focused on helping hardworking New Yorkers get ahead.”
Only about 12 percent of workers in the private sector and 5 percent of the lowest-paid workers have paid family leave, added Nolan.
The bill has garnered support from much of the city’s political class. The City Council passed a resolution in 2014 recommending that the state pass the Paid Family Leave Insurance Act. Public Advocate Letitia James has publicly offered her support numerous times, as has Scott Stringer.
Yet the bill has repeatedly died in the state Senate.
A key sticking point that has delayed the bill’s progress is its source of funding. The proposed bill bases its funding on employee contributions rather than state funding. The legislation would use the employee payroll deductions of no more than 45 cents a week in the first year to fund paid family leave through the states’ existing Temporary Disability Insurance program, raising benefit levels for the first time in 26 years through an increases in premiums that would be shared by employers and employees.
Another version of the bill sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), the Independent Democratic Conference leader, differs from the Addabbo-Nolan bill on its source of funding. The Klein bill, which has certain support from Senate Republicans, calls for the state to pay at least $125 million in the first year of implementation with the following years supplemented by employee payroll fees.
“I think we all know that it is no longer a question of if New York will enact a paid family leave program,” Addabbo said. “It is simply a question of when. I am optimistic it will be 2016.”
Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at [email protected]