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Paid Family Leave Back on Drawing Board in Washington State

Paid family leave programs are linked to improved health outcomes for children and families. Credit: manuere/Morguefile
Paid family leave programs are linked to improved health outcomes for children and families. Credit: manuere/Morguefile

October 12, 2015

SEATTLE - The issue of paid family leave is coming into the forefront in Washington again.

The state is among eight recently selected for a federal grant to research the benefits of implementing a paid family and medical leave program. The $247,000 grant will allow Washington to put the paid leave program, adopted by the Legislature eight years ago, back on the drawing board.

Marilyn Watkins, policy director with the Economic Opportunity Institute, says a study will compare benefits vs. costs, and the impact on families and businesses.

"Another part of it will be to look at existing state programs and services and how a family and medical leave insurance program would interact with those and really allow them to work better," says Watkins.

The Family Leave Insurance Act was approved in 2007 but tabled due to a lack of funding. Under federal and state law, workers are guaranteed up to 12 weeks of leave for pregnancy, newborn and medical care situations, but it is unpaid time.

Watkins says with paid family leave, the state can save on public assistance, child-care subsidies, and senior home care. And she adds research shows it boosts worker earnings, increases employee retention and improves health outcomes for children and families.

"We all understand how important it is that parents be able to stay home with their newborn children and really nurture and care for those new young lives, for mothers to recover their own health following childbirth and to really give the baby their best possible start in life," says Watkins.

Funding the program will not be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, explains Watkins. She says
workers would contribute to a trust fund through a small payroll premium, and then draw from it when on family or medical leave.

"Employers are not having to foot the bill when people are out on extended leave and also the state isn't footing the bill through other existing state revenues," she says. "It's a new source of revenue and makes it a completely self-funded program."

California, Massachusetts and New Jersey are among states that have passed similar paid leave laws.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - WA