Paid family leave for Washington – progress now and later

Crosscut’s Carolyn McConnell takes a long look at the history and progress of Washington’s paid family leave program, calling it “a glass-half-full or half-empty kind of a story”.

Also today, two key legislators write in the Puget Sound Business Journal (subscription required) under the headline “Paid family leave is on track”, pointing to reduced costs as evidence Washington’s process is unfolding properly.

So as of the close of the 2008 legislative session, where does Washington stand?


A year ago, Washington became only the second state in the nation to legislate paid family leave. This year, legislators failed to provide the program with a permanent funding source, but their budget did give it an administrative home and start-up funding of $6.2 million.

Now it’s likely New Jersey will pass Washington by, becoming the second state (after California) to implement paid family leave — and a more generous program than Washington’s at that.

Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson:

In their Feb. 29th column, Representative Cary Condotta and Senator Janea Holmquist claim that Family Leave Insurance “was rushed through the Legislature.” Pardon the pun, but two-and-a-half years from conception to delivery is hardly a rush.

We still have work to do on long-term financing for the program. We stand ready to work cooperatively with our colleagues to identify funding for this important commitment. We also have the commitment of our leadership in the House and Senate to bring a funding package to the legislature when it convenes next winter.

Proponents include MomsRising and the Washington Family Leave Coalition – representing seniors, women, labor, health professionals, children’s advocates, faith communities, low-income workers, employers, and others.

While there has been notable support from many independent business owners, steadfast opponents of the program include the Association of Washington Business and the Independent Business Association.

Here’s how current and projected costs for Family Leave Insurance shake out:

  • Start-up costs:
    Through June 2009: $6.2 million
    Total 1-time start-up costs through 2011: $10 million
  • 2009-11 estimates:
    Families served: 47,000
    Cost: $71.6 million ($14.4 million administration, $57.2 million benefits)
  • 2011-13 estimates:
    Families served: 62,100
    Cost – $88.6 million ($12.6 million administration, $76 million benefits)
  • Based on experience in California’s program, up to 2/3 of program users will make less than $36,000 annually.

As for the electorate, polls late last year showed three-fourths of Washington voters support family leave insurance financed by a new 3-cent-per-hour payroll tax, across party lines, geographic areas and demographic boundaries.

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