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WA Prepares to Launch Paid Family, Medical Leave Program

Washington state lawmakers approved a paid family and medical leave program in 2017. (designer491/Adobe Stock)
Washington state lawmakers approved a paid family and medical leave program in 2017. (designer491/Adobe Stock)
December 12, 2019

SEATTLE – The state's paid family and medical leave program is gearing up to give workers time off when they need it most.

Starting in January, Washington will become the fifth state to offer comprehensive leave, allowing employees to take up to 12 – and in some cases 18 – weeks off to care for a new child, a loved one or in the event of a medical emergency.

Marilyn Watkins, policy director for the Economic Opportunity Institute, says some employers in the state already offer leave benefits available but they're mainly for highly paid workers. Most lower-wage workers don't have this option.

She says the goal of this program is to make leave accessible to everyone.

"So that they can keep themselves healthy and be as healthy as they can be, that they can really nurture their young children, as well as care for those sick family members in ways that benefit the health and well-being of everybody," she stresses.

Benefits are funded through a payroll premium of 0.4% that began last January.

Watkins says Washington state's efforts to provide leave are different because the state had to build the program from scratch. The other four states added paid family leave to their already existing temporary disability insurance programs.

Employees who have worked 820 hours the previous year for any combination of employers are eligible.

Watkins says Washington learned from other states and will offer the greatest wage replacement to low-wage workers who make less than half of the statewide average weekly wage, which is $628.

"They'll get 90% of their gross wages before taxes and everything are taken out of it, so they'll get pretty close to what their full paycheck would be when they're out on leave,” she points out. “And middle income workers here in Washington will actually also get higher benefits than they do in the other states that have existing programs."

The website paidleave.wa.gov has more information on how to apply.

Disclosure: Economic Opportunity Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Livable Wages/Working Families, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA