Five States Now Offer Paid Family Leave — and We Hope More Will Follow

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When I had a baby in 2014, I was living in Georgia and working at a job that did not provide maternity leave.

I knew I’d need some time off to recover from childbirth, get adjusted to new motherhood and bond with my baby. But since the nation’s Family and Medical Leave Act only provides unpaid time off (essentially just securing you’ll have a job to go back to), I had to rely on my meager savings and a little short-term disability money to get me through that unpaid 12-week period.

New parents all over the country — plus workers who need to take time off to deal with medical conditions or care for family members’ health afflictions — are often faced with having to figure out how they’ll afford to take time off they’re legally entitled to.

A handful of states are taking that pressure off by offering paid family and medical leave.

Washington State Steps Up

On Friday, Washington legislators passed a family-leave measure, making it the fifth state in the nation to guarantee paid leave for workers, the Associated Press reported.

California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York and Washington D.C. have similar programs already, though New York’s doesn’t go into effect until 2018 and Washington D.C.’s will not begin until 2020.

According to the AP, Washington’s plan won’t start until 2020.

What This Means for Workers

Under the new law, workers living in Washington state will be able to take up to 12 weeks of family leave or medical leave in a year or 16 weeks for a combination of both types of leave.

Workers who experience a “serious health condition” associated with pregnancy can take an extra two weeks of paid leave.

The AP said pay is based on a percentage of the employee’s regular wages and the state’s average weekly pay. The law will cap earnings during leave at $1,000 a week.

Both employees and employers will pay into the program. The AP noted that a person with an annual salary of $50,000 would pay $2.42 a week, while their employer would pay $1.42 a week. Should this person go on leave, they would receive about $703 a week, according to a Senate calculator.

Why This Matters

I think Rep. Javier Valdez said it best when the AP quoted him as saying, “No one should ever have to choose between caring for a family member or paying their bills.”

Dealing with a new addition to the family or a serious illness is already a crucial life event to manage. Not having to worry about a lapse in wages during that time is what I consider to be a godsend.

We’ve written about how stressful it can be to take sick leave for a major illness. Even taking a sick day can be problematic when it’s unpaid.

We’ve also written about how new parents already underestimate the costs to raise a kid. Babies are expensive — so we could use all the help we can get. Though President Donald Trump has proposed six weeks of paid parental leave throughout the country, no laws have been passed yet to make that a reality.

I can only imagine workers in Washington are rejoicing with this news. My sister and her family moved to Seattle a couple years ago. Though I hate they’re so far away, I’m glad they can take advantage of this awesome work benefit.

I’m hoping more states will get on board and pass similar measures soon.

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.