Legislators are dragging their heels on two bills that will help rebuild Washington’s middle class and save tax dollars. What gives?
Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36) chairs the House Finance Committee, which is considering family leave; Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48) chairs the House Appropriations Committee, which is considering paid sick days.
Washington lawmakers have received an outpouring of emails and phone calls in favor of the two bills. Small business owners, parents, injured workers, early learning experts, and health professionals have testified in support of these commonsense policies for healthy children, strong families, and public health. And because state employees already have sick leave, and family leave insurance benefits and administrative costs are fully covered by modest insurance premiums, any direct costs to the state’s general fund are minimal.
It’s time for a reality check. By denying Washington workers the ability to earn paid sick time and family and medical leave on the job, legislators actually are digging a deeper budget hole for themselves – and Washington taxpayers.
Health care costs are rising faster than inflation, we have an aging population, and growing income inequality is leaving many working families struggling. We also face an outdated tax structure (it hasn’t been updated since the 1930s) that’s holding back public investment in economic growth. Unless legislators act, these underlying problems with our state’s budget will persist – even when the economy fully recovers.
Family and Medical Leave Insurance and Paid Sick Days will help lower costs for the state – and not in the distant future, but the very day benefits start.
When workers are forced to forego pay to deal with critical health and family needs, they cut back spending, deplete savings, and can end up in a downward spiral that ends in dependence on public assistance. By contrast, in the five states with paid family leave and/or disability leave insurance programs in place, new moms are less than half as likely to be on public assistance in the year following a birth than in the other 45 states – including Washington.
Paid leave improves the health of infants, school kids, workers, and seniors. People get more timely preventive care, leading to earlier treatment of health problems. Care by family members aids recovery, shortens hospital stays, and reduces re-hospitalizations. The consequent reduction in health spending will reduce demands on the state budget, and benefit businesses and family budgets across the state.
When parents can take time off to be with their newborn child, it significantly improves maternal and infant health. Increased breastfeeding has lasting positive impacts on a child’s health, sets the stage for healthy emotional and social development, and stimulates strong brain development.
Half of births are funded by the state through Medicaid. That percentage has been rising steadily for the past 20 years. Pregnant women who can attend to health needs will also have fewer premature births, reducing risk factors for all sorts of costly complications.
These days, more workers have their own health issues, and more are caring for their aging parents along with their children. Our seniors’ health and quality of life will significantly improve when families can take time to be with them, provide care during times of crisis, and set up appropriate long term care. Keep in mind that when families can’t do that, the state foots the bill.
The best medicine for what ails Washington’s economy is a strong middle class, and economic security for our working families.
Fortunately, while the Family and Medical leave Insurance bill may not get passed out of committee before the policy cutoff, it still has a chance this year as it is a bill considered “necessary to implement the budget.”
UPDATED 2/28/13 11:01 PM to clarify legislation under consideration by each committee.