When will the United States catch up on paid family leave? Inslee hopes state research will keep federal efforts from stalling

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OLYMPIA – Paid family leave has long bubbled along the surface of conversations as one of the crucial steps in supporting working families. Current federal laws allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a newborn or family member in need of medical care, but that leave is unpaid. The Washington State Legislature approved a policy in 2007 to provide paid leave but has yet to approve funding to pay for it.

The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not offer paid family leave of any kind.

To restart this conversation, Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration last year applied for a federal grant to collect data to determine what a feasible paid family leave program might look like in the state. Washington was one of eight states awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Labor to pay for public opinion research, a cost-benefit analysis of eight paid leave models, and an analysis by the University of Washington about the impacts on certain safety net programs such as supplemental nutritional assistance, commonly referred to as SNAP, or food stamps. An advisory group composed of business, labor and public interest leaders helped direct the research. The grant was administered by the state Employment Security Department, which is now submitting results of the polling and research to DOL. These results will inform paid leave efforts initiated under the Obama administration.

“All too often, new parents and those with aging or sick loved ones face no-win decisions pitting the need for a paycheck against the need to be there for their family. Our nation should not be the outlier in helping families navigate these difficult situations,” Inslee said. “Under President Obama, states like ours were given an opportunity to help shape the conversation. I appreciate the work of those who served on the advisory council. Having both employers and employees at the table is incredibly important. I hope this new information will keep this important discussion moving forward, not just in our state but also at the national level.”

Paid family leave can be structured in many ways, depending on how many weeks are allowed, what situations are covered and how it’s paid for. Opinion research conducted through the grant showed that significant majorities of likely voters in every region of the state favor paid leave, regardless of family situations covered, including pregnancy, adoption, serious health conditions and parental care. Support was high across all demographics, including gender, age, income, political affiliation, marital status and employment status.

While businesses and employers generally find paid family leave a positive benefit that provides peace of mind for employees, there are concerns about cost, and for smaller businesses, the flexibility of managing staffing. The UW research concluded that a paid family leave program would reduce the use of TANF, the federal financial assistance program, by new parents.

“There’s a reason every other industrialized nation provides some form of paid family leave — because it’s good for workers and for employers,” Inslee said. “We will continue the conversation in Washington state, and hope our work prevents federal efforts underway from stalling.”

ESD’s reports and research summaries are available here:

More information about the grant and federal paid leave efforts are available from DOL here.

Media Contacts

Tara Lee
Governor Inslee’s Communications Office