NPR: Obama Budget Pushes Paid Leave Programs

When citizen delegates from Washington State converged in Washington DC to urge their representatives to take action on paid family leave and paid sick days, Selena Allen, of Tacoma (whose story we’ve profiled before), and EOI Policy Director Marilyn Watkins were interviewed by NPR reporter Jennifer Ludden:

For millions of Americans, a major illness or family crisis means time off work with no pay. In recent years, several states have passed their own paid leave programs. Half a dozen more are trying but are largely stalled by the bad economy. Now, the Obama administration’s proposed budget aims to encourage states to push ahead.

Paid leave would help people like Selena Allen of Tacoma, Wash. When she found out she was pregnant with her second child, Allen started saving all her vacation and sick days. She hoarded away enough to take one month of maternity leave. Then her son was born a month and a half early. Allen, who worked at a nonprofit at the time, decided she simply couldn’t afford to take any more time off — time that would have been unpaid. She postponed her maternity leave and returned to work a painful four days after giving birth.

California enacted a paid family leave law in 2002, and New Jersey followed suit in 2008. And in 2007, Washington state made headlines when it passed a paid parental leave law. The law would provide new parents up to $250 a week for up to five weeks. Advocates wanted it to include other kinds of family leave, such as major illness, and still hope to broaden it eventually.

But the bigger dilemma was that lawmakers couldn’t agree on how to fund the program. Unlike California and New Jersey, Washington does not have an existing disability insurance program, so it had to create a funding mechanism from scratch. The state set up a task force to do that. Then, says task force member Marilyn Watkins, of the Economic Opportunity Institute, the recession hit.

“A new program, with a new source of funding, in the face of cutting so many other programs, was just not a feasible situation,” Watkins says. Washington state’s paid leave program has been put on hold until 2012, but Watkins hopes the federal government can rescue it sooner.

Read (or listen to) the full story here.

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