New Jersey's Paid Family Leave program has been a resounding success, serving nearly 80,000 workers and not hindering business as opponents of the idea argued it would when it was created four years ago, proponents declared Thursday.
Advocates of the program, including New Jersey AFL-CIO and New Jersey Time to Care Coalition leaders — Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Senators Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex) and Assemblyman Nelson Albano (D-Atlantic) — gathered in Trenton to recognize the fourth anniversary of the program.
“This policy has shown that New Jersey can be pro-business and pro-family at the same time," Weinberg said.
The Paid Family Leave Act permits workers to apply for up to six weeks paid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, or a sick parent, spouse or child. Family leave benefits are funded by an employee payroll tax. Workers are entitled to two-thirds of their weekly wages up to maximum of $572 in 2012.
Since the program began, over 80,000 claims have been approved. While the majority of claims have been for bonding with newborns or newly adopted children, more than 15,000 New Jerseyans have used it to take care of sick family members.
In 2011, surplus of funds allowed for a 50 percent cut in the amount of money employees contributed to paid family leave. The current amount paid remains below the original 12 percent originally deducted from each paycheck.
"It brings me great joy to know that New Jersey now extends this crucial pro-family support to all of its workers, not just a select few,” Sweeney said. “When my own daughter was born 19 years ago, I was lucky enough to have an employer who understood the situation and allowed me to take the time I needed. But had I been in a different job, I could have faced the prospect of choosing between spending 75 days at the hospital with my newborn, or working to provide for my growing family. Thanks to Paid Family Leave, New Jerseyans no longer have to make that kind of agonizing decision."
“The value of this program to workers, from both a financial and social perspective is immense,” AFL-CIO President Chalres Wowkanech said. “This program provides wage replacement so workers don’t have to choose between paying their mortgages and spending time with a new born baby or seriously ill family member when they need it the most — and that is priceless.”
“When it comes down to it, Family Leave Insurance is a no-brainer,” New Jersey Citizen Action Director Phyllis Salowe-Kaye said. “It gives workers financial security by allowing them to take paid leave to deal with a child's illness or a parent's recovery from an illness, which not only makes for stronger families, but also increases worker morale, productivity and retention.”
The anniversary of the law comes as a new study, released by the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University and the National Partnership for Women & Families, which finds public assistance and food stamp use is lower for new mothers who live in states with paid leave policies, especially when these mothers use the paid leave available to them.
“In May 2008, when Family Leave Insurance was signed into law, New Jersey took a strong step forward in helping families balance work and family, especially during these hard economic times, as families struggle to keep jobs and homes,” said Karen White, director of the Working Families Program at the Center for Women and Work. “With family leave insurance, working families in New Jersey don’t have to make the impossible choice between earning a paycheck and staying home to care for a loved one.”
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM