Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Family leave opponents long on assertions, short on suggestions

Some interesting assertions by State Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger) in his guest column in yesterday’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer; he claims (erroneously) that Washington’s Family Leave Insurance program

“will only be used by the prosperous…[it] could be funded by the poor working-class folks to give the more prosperous a benefit” and asserts family leave is”being rushed through without a real debate.”

A quick look south to California’s paid family leave program shows his first claim doesn’t hold water. Under California’s paid family leave program, 63 percent of those taking leave to care for a new child make less than $36,000 annually.

Keep in mind that one of the main goals of Family Leave Insurance is to enable workers who cannot afford to take unpaid leave to actually access the leave rights to which they are entitled. Last year, an estimated 1.3 million Washington workers weren’t even covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides only unpaid time off; another 24,000 were eligible but couldn’t afford to take it.

As for “rushing the program through without a real debate” – it’s hard to square that with the fact that Washington’s deliberate, step-by-step approach to the program is taking two-and-a-half years to get things up and running.

A quick history: Family leave policy was established in 2007. Details for effective and low cost administration of the program (recommended by a task force of business, labor, family advocates, and legislators — including Chandler) are included the proposed 2008 state Supplemental Budget, along with start-up funding. Long-term financing for benefits will be determined next winter, well before benefits begin in October 2009.

So it has taken time, and Washington’s taxpayers, businesses and families are better off for it. Family Leave Insurance isn’t for “the poor working-class folks” as Chandler writes. It’s for every family and child in our state – because no parent should be forced to choose between taking care of a new baby and earning a living.

Family leave benefits all of us; it lowers infant mortality, encourages breast-feeding (bolstering babies’ immune systems), and allows women time to recover from childbirth. It also improves productivity by reducing turnover and helping children become better learners – both essential to economic growth.

It’s heartening to read that (according to Chandler), “Republicans don’t want to debate last year’s legislation — we’re beyond that decision,” but the dearth of actual ideas in his column about how to support Family Leave Insurance speaks much more loudly. With legislative leaders in Olympia pledging to pass a funding mechanism next year, it will be interesting to see whether that changes.

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