Just the facts (on family leave), please | Part 1

February 7, 2008 | Aaron Keating

A recent brief published by the Washington Policy Center is long on opinion and short on facts when it comes to Washington’s Family Leave Insurance program. For example, the paper states:

There are few eligibility requirements and every business is covered and must be part of the system regardless of size.

Someone clearly didn’t do their homework. Washington’s Family Leave Insurance program is available only to parents of a newly-born or newly-adopted child who have worked at least 680 hours in the previous year.

What’s more, it only provides job protection to workers out on family leave in companies with more than 25 employees, if that worker has been with the employer a full year and worked at least 1,250 hours.

There’s more – WPC goes on to say:

National studies show that about two-thirds of small businesses provide some sort of paid family leave options to their employees, while the other one-third report taking steps to handle leave requests on a case-by-case basis.

That’s an interesting statistic, especially in light of numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which have something different to say – namely, that nationally only 8 percent of private sector workers receive paid family leave.

Numbers from the Washington State Employment Security Department tell a similar story: fewer than half (46%) of Washington’s employers offer paid sick leave, and 1 in 4 do not offer paid vacation to their full-time employees. Most part-time workers get no paid leave at all.

Last year, an estimated 1.3 million Washington workers weren’t covered by federal Family and Medical Leave Act; 24,000 were eligible but couldn’t afford to take it.

The brief continues:

Small business owners feel they are taking adequate steps towards taking care of their employees and are disappointed that the legislature feels differently.

It is certainly in the economic interest of every business to take care of their employees, and many go to great lengths to do that. But as the statistics above illustrate, many businesses do not actually provide pay during family leave.

This isn’t too surprising actually – it’s a matter of economics: If business owner “A” (knowing his or her employees can’t afford to go unpaid for a month) pays for family leave, and business owner “B” doesn’t, guess who’s at a competitive disadvantage?

Bigger businesses typically have more resources at their disposal to provide paid family leave. Family Leave Insurance actually levels the economic playing field for businesses small and large by providing benefits to all workers.

Onward.

Even though legislators failed to attach a funding mechanism to the program last year, and even though there are doubts as to if the system can be set up in time to meet the October 1, 2009 deadline, there is little talk of repealing the system.

Last year was last year. This year, funding for Family Leave Insurance is part of the Governor Gregoire’s 2008 Supplemental Budget request, which includes sufficient funds for start-up and operating costs for the program through June 2009.

A supplemental budget can only designate funds through the end of the current budget biennium. So in January 2009, when the Legislature puts together the state’s 2009-11 budget, Family Leave Insurance will need to be included again, just like other programs funded from the state’s general fund.

As for being ready in time, at a House Labor and Commerce hearing on January 18th, Joel Sacks, Director of the Employment Security Department (which will administer Washington’s Family Leave Insurance program) stated that ESD can be ready to administer family leave benefits in time, and that ESD has already taken initial steps to do so.

More tomorrow in Part 2.

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Posted in Paid Family and Medical Leave, Tax and Budget, Work & Family

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