Rhode Island Has Paid Family Leave, 47 States Still Don't

On [July 2], the Rhode Island state House voted 53-18 to pass a bill that would allow workers to take paid time off to care for a new child or a sick or injured family member. The Senate had previously passed the bill, but due to a technical change in the House version it headed back for a final vote in the Senate. That vote will send it to Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s (D) desk, who activists expect will sign it into law. [The bill was signed into law on July 11.]

The bill expands the state’s current Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) program, which currently only covers those who need time off for a work-related illness or injury, to cover those who need family leave. Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) will allow workers to pay into the program through a payroll deduction and then, starting January 2014, take up to four weeks of paid leave, which would rise to six weeks the year after and eight weeks by 2016. Paying into the program would cost someone making $43,000 a year 83 cents a week. The minimum weekly payment for the TDI program is currently $72 and the maximum is $752. It would cover nearly 80 percent of the state’s workforce.

California and New Jersey are the only other two states that have programs similar to this one, which allow employees to pay into paid leave insurance. Connecticut also took a step toward creating such a program recently by setting up a task force to study the feasibility.

Opponents of Rhode Island’s bill argued that it would hurt businesses. Yet small business owners had joined the coalition pushing for its passage. Research into California and New Jersey’s laws have also found a positive impact on businesses. One study of California’s program predicted that businesses could save $89 million thanks to better employee retention. After its passage, the majority of employers reported either a neutral or positive impact, and a study of New Jersey’s law found similar business savings. California is also expected to save $25 million a year thanks to decreased spending on public assistance programs.

Given that 47 states still don’t have paid leave programs, many American workers don’t have access to paid time off to care for a new child or sick loved one. Only 11 percent of private sector workers and 17 of public sector workers get paid maternity leave through their employers. The U.S. is a real outlier in this regard: it is just one of three countries around the world that doesn’t guarantee all workers paid maternity leave. The Center for American Progress has therefore proposed Social Security Cares, which would create a nationwide program to allow workers to pay into paid family leave.

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