Leading Physicians, Health Organizations and Health Workers Call on Governor Cuomo and State Senate to Act on Paid Family Leave
New York physicians and health professionals representing city, state and national organizations today called attention to the health arguments for paid family leave during a panel discussion co-sponsored by the Community Service Society (CSS).
The panel coincided with the release of a letter signed by more than 200 physicians statewide and 22 prominent health and medical groups urging Governor Cuomo and the State Senate to act on proposed legislation that would enable workers to care for newborns and seriously-ill family members without putting their finances and jobs at risk. Endorsers of the statement included associations representing New York State’s obstetricians and gynecologists, pediatricians, nurses and nurse practitioners as well breastfeeding, Alzheimer’s disease, and public health groups and 1199 SEIU, a local health workers union with 360,000 members.
The letter to the governor and members of the State Senate states: “The public health is at stake. New Yorkers should not be compelled to choose between caring for a newborn or seriously ill family member and their jobs and incomes. Research evidence and our own experiences demonstrate that supporting breastfeeding, enabling both mothers and fathers to establish nurturing bonds with their infants, reducing financial stress and the risks of poverty, and making it possible for working people to play critically important roles in managing and supporting care for seriously ill children, spouses and their own aging parents will yield vital health benefits.” (A complete version of the letter is attached to this press release.)
As one of five states with a Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) system already in place, New York is uniquely-situated to provide paid family leave. The Paid Family Leave Insurance Act (A3870/S3004) passed the State Assembly, and is now awaiting action by the State Senate and Gov. Cuomo. It would modify the existing TDI system to offer up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to help replace lost income when workers take time off to care for a new child, a seriously ill family member or attend to the needs related to a family member’s military deployment.
“As pediatric professionals, we see first-hand the positive outcomes that come when mothers have the ability to breastfeed and to nurture their newborns through family leave,” said Dr. Benard Dreyer, President-Elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Director of Pediatrics at Bellevue Hospital Center. “Children’s early brain development is a critical period with life-long impacts and infants need and deserve their parents’ love and attention starting at birth! Widespread health disparities exist in our society and low-income families bear the brunt of these inequities. When we support common-sense measures such as Paid Family Leave, and help working parents take on the critical role as caregivers, we improve the potential for better early childhood outcomes, better health outcomes overall, and economic savings for families and for society.”
“There are times when workers have pressing family needs – the arrival of a new child, or a family member is stricken with a devastating illness. At these times, being a responsible parent or family caregiver should not throw the family into financial crisis, ruinous debt or poverty, threatening their job stability, undermining their attachment to the labor force,” said David R. Jones, CSS President and CEO. “We applaud health and medical professionals for lending their voices to the call to pass paid family leave legislation so that New Yorkers won’t have to choose between the health of their families and their ability to make ends meet.”
A CSS report on paid family leave released this year, “A Necessity, Not a Benefit,” examined how the lives of low-income working women are affected by the lack of guaranteed paid family leave. It found that many low-income working mothers rush back to their jobs when their infants are only a few weeks old because they cannot survive without a paycheck.
Under TDI, mothers recovering from childbirth are eligible for five to seven weeks of benefits, capped at $170 a week. For low-income mothers who have little or no savings, this is not enough to survive on. Moreover, many working women are unaware of TDI, and there are no guarantees of job protection. Benefits under A3870/S3004 would be equal to two-thirds of an employee’s wages up to a cap of half the statewide average weekly wage, which would make the maximum $633 today. The new paid family leave benefits would be funded entirely by employees through a small weekly payroll deduction of 45 cents a week, rising to an estimated 88 cents a week when the program is fully phased in. The legislation would also provide a much-needed boost to existing disability benefits, frozen since 1989, with the cost shared between employers and employees. As such, the revenue-neutral measure adds no additional cost to the state budget.
Nancy Rankin, CSS Vice President for Research, Policy and Advocacy and co-author of the report, said when impartial health professionals raise concerns about the connection between inadequate workforce policies and poor health outcomes and preventable health disparities, policymakers should listen.
“Helping working families give their children a healthy start or be a caregiver to a parent with complex health needs is not a political issue – it’s a moral one,” said Rankin, who moderated the panel discussion. “The preoccupation with imagined harmful effects on business—that have not materialized in other states that provide paid family leave—has overshadowed the very real harmful effects of not having paid leave on the health of New Yorkers. New York has an opportunity to lead on this issue, paving the way for national legislation.”