New Yorkers Get Paid Family Leave—Should Your State Offer It?

New York parents-to-be have a little extra help navigating those first few weeks of new parenthood. Could paid family leave come to your state?
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My husband and I were lucky to be able to take several weeks off when we adopted each of our daughters. It was great for helping us bond with our babies—but not so great for our bank account.

But maybe it's time to adopt again, as New York has joined a few other states—including New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island—in offering paid time off for new parents, people caring for sick relatives, or those helping out when a family member is deployed in the military. The law gives workers half pay currently, but the amount of pay increases a bit over the next few years, until it hits two-thirds of your wages in 2021 (if you want to hold off on having your baby until then!).

There's good reason for states to offer this coverage. "No one should have to choose between their job and their family's health," says Lindsay Farrell, director of the Connecticut Working Families Party. "When you don't have paid family leave, new parents are in an impossible position. Either they rush back to work and miss out on caring for and bonding with their new child—often worrying about the pieced together arrangements they make for their infant's care—or they stay home and instead worry about paying bills and putting food on the table. A paid family leave program means that parents can focus on caring for their children when they are most vulnerable without having to worry about financial strain."

These new laws have tended to increase the likelihood that new dads take some time off to spend with their kids, with big benefits for the family. "Caring for loved ones is a deeply held value in our nation, but the lack of public policies means that the majority of parents will take a substantial financial hit for doing just that," says Ellen Bravo, co-director of Family Values @ Work. "Many more men would take time off to care for their families if they weren't punished for doing so. In states that have passed paid family and medical leave, we see a significant increase in the number of men sharing caregiving."

Impact on Businesses

The U.S. lags behind most of the rest of the world in providing paid time off for new parents—only two other countries don't mandate paid time off for new moms (Oman and Papua New Guinea), and more than 70 countries also provide paid time off for new dads. In the U.S. business lobbies and a lack of Congressional interest have kept paid family leave from happening on a national level, so advocates have been pushing for reform on a state by state basis.

But research from the states who have implemented paid family leave finds that businesses soon see the benefits of the policy. "While opponents stir fears, the evidence shows that paid leave improves employee retention, attracts talented staff, improves employee engagement and morale, and improves a company's brand," Bravo says.

And while lawmakers wring their hands at the plight of small businesses, small business tends to lead the way in supporting these policies, rather than the larger corporations. "Small business owners care about their employees," Farrell says. "They want to make sure they are financially secure when a baby arrives or someone gets sick, but they often struggle with the cost on their own. A universal paid family leave program puts everyone on equal footing and makes it easier for small businesses to handle these kinds of situations with their employees when they arise."

What You Can Do

Right now, legislation is making its way through several states to provide paid family leave. "Each new win inspires groups in other states that this urgently needed change is possible—and that everyday people can make it happen," Bravo says. "Several states have good prospects of winning this year or next—Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Oregon."

If your state doesn't currently offer this benefit, you can help make it happen. "Call your legislators and your governor and demand that your state pass and implement a paid family leave program," Farrell says. "Public opinion is on our side, and this is a fight we can win—but we can't win it without people making their voices heard."

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