POINT OF VIEW

New York's paid family leave begins in January

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Family always comes first. It’s a mantra we live by. We drop what we’re doing to be by a loved one’s side in a time of need, and make sacrifices for them in an instant.

But unfortunately, selfless actions like those can come with a harsh price tag for far too many people. 

It can be the difference between food on the table and an empty fridge, because for so many New Yorkers, paid leave from work simply isn’t an option.

That’s about to change, though, when the state’s new paid family leave program begins on Jan. 1. 

The Assembly majority spearheaded the creation of the program, recognizing that for too long, workers have been penalized for putting family first.

Under New York’s paid family leave program — the most robust in the nation — almost all workers will be eligible for paid family leave benefits. This is a drastic improvement over the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which only offers unpaid leave and covers just 60 percent of the work force.

New York is now one of only five states, as well as the District of Columbia, to require a paid family leave benefit. 

Workers — especially women, who bear the brunt of unfair workplace policies — will no longer be punished for caring for a loved one.

We’re recognizing that it’s wrong to expect a woman, or any parent, to forgo bonding with their new child so they don’t miss a paycheck. 

Just like it’s wrong to expect someone to choose between their job and being near a loved one’s hospital bedside.

When it comes to work and family, the latter should always be the priority, and the Assembly majority understands that.

The Assembly majority also understands that paid family leave is not only the right thing to do, it’s a crucial step toward helping more New Yorkers achieve financial security, as well as a boost to our economy. It’s good for business — it will increase worker productivity and morale, and help employers retain skilled workers. 

It also can help close the gender pay gap by ensuring that women, who are often the ones to take time off from work to care for children and ill family members, remain employed and have stable income, which can increase their lifetime earning potential.

Research has also shown that when mothers take paid leave, their children’s health and development benefits.

New York’s program is being phased in, ensuring employers have enough time to adjust and implement it. 

In 2018, workers will be eligible for eight weeks of job-protected paid leave at 50 percent of their average weekly wage, up to 50 percent of the statewide average weekly wage. 

In 2019, it will increase to 10 weeks of leave at 55 percent of the worker’s average weekly wage, up to 55 percent of the statewide average weekly wage.

Then to 60 percent of the worker’s average weekly wage, up to 50 percent of the statewide average weekly wage in 2020. 

By 2021, it will rise to 12 weeks at 67 percent of the worker’s average wage, up to 67 percent of the statewide average weekly wage.

T

o cover the costs of the program, private employers will secure paid family leave insurance, and premiums will be fully funded by employees through small payroll deductions. The maximum payroll deduction will be 0.126 percent of the employees weekly wage, or the state’s average weekly wage — currently no more than $1.64 per week.

Public employers may also opt into the program. 

Employees are eligible after working at least 20 hours per week for 26 weeks, or less than 20 hours per week for 175 days.

Together, we are building a stronger New York State. Progressive policies like paid family leave serve as an example across the nation of what we can do to support working families and ensure equal opportunity for all.

If you would like additional information about the state’s paid family leave program and how it could affect you, call the Paid Family Leave Helpline at (844) 337-6303.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact my office at dinowitzj@nyassembly.gov, or (718) 796-5345, if you have any questions about this or any community issue.

The author is the Assembly representative for the 81st District, which includes Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Van Cortlandt Village, Kingsbridge Heights, Marble Hill, Norwood, Woodlawn and Wakefield.

Jeffrey Dinowitz,

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