Regardless of your political views or economic status, at some time in all of our lives we will need to take a few weeks off to care for a newborn or a seriously ill family member. With his announcement today, the President challenged states across the nation to improve workplace policies to make it easier for Americans to balance work and caregiving responsibilities without putting their economic status at risk. While this would help all of us, it would make the biggest difference for low-wage workers who have little savings to keep them afloat in the weeks following childbirth or when an aging parent suffers a health crisis.
First, the President is calling for legislation that would provide workers with up to seven paid sick days a year, building on momentum from New York City and other localities around the nation that have passed local law requiring sick pay.
But there are occasions when workers need more than a few days to meet critical family responsibilities. The United States stands virtually alone in the world—and New York lags behind other states—when it comes to providing any paid time for workers with a new baby or sick relative who depends on their care. So the President will also request in his executive budget $2.2 billion in mandatory funding to reimburse states that initiate paid leave programs. That plan also includes competitive grants for states that want to explore creating such programs.
The President’s announcement is a wake-up call for New York. We already have a Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) system that could be modernized to include paid family leave. We also have a concept of how it could be administered. Last year, the Assembly passed a bill that would provide up to 12 weeks of insurance benefits to replace earnings when a worker takes time to care for a newborn or ailing family member. The program would be financed entirely through modest employee payroll contributions and would not add a dime to the state budget. In fact, it could well lead to long-run savings in Medicaid from improving child and maternal health, enabling working New Yorkers to assist in post-hospital care and avert re-admissions, and helping low-income New Yorkers keep their jobs.
For that reason, enacting paid family leave was a top recommendation of Gov. Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team. The same governor who created the Women’s Equality Party and eloquently championed a variety of initiatives to bring down barriers to employment for women, now has an opportunity to “walk the talk” and lead our state toward making paid family leave a reality.