NY family leave expanded after cuts in Washington

Gov. Kathy Hochul signs a bill into law in New York City on Monday to expand the state’s Family Paid Leave program to include siblings.

NEW YORK — The state’s paid family leave program was expanded Monday to care for a sibling with a serious health condition on the heels of lawmakers in Washington cutting paid family and sick leave from a $1.85 trillion federal spending bill.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law Monday expanding New York’s Paid Family Leave program to care for a sibling at a press conference in her Manhattan office with bill sponsors, Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr., D-Queens, and Assemblymember Sandy Galef, D-Ossining.

“This is a very real problem for New Yorkers,” Hochul said Monday. “I’m so proud today we have lawmakers who understand this basic right to take care of each other.”

The expansion will go into effect Jan. 1.

Established in 2016, the state’s Paid Family Leave provides job-protected, paid time off totaling 67% of your average weekly wage for up to 12 weeks for private or public employers to bond with a new child, provide care for a family member or assist military families.

“I was able to hold my mother’s hand a few years back when she took her last breath, just like she held my hand when I took my first,” Hochul said.

The program was expanded Monday to include siblings for people who have no other family, such as people without children, or those in the LGBTQ community.

Hochul is one of six children, and noted her close relationship with one of her sisters, who lost her husband a few years ago and continues to raise teenagers.

The state program benefits more than 100,000 people each year.

“Washington: Let’s get this done,” the governor added. “You need to join us in our plans to make sure people can take care of their families and not lose their jobs.”

After months of negotiations, a $1.85 trillion federal spending bill that would address climate change and expand the nation’s social safety net does not include provisions that would provide access to paid family and sick leave.

Democrats largely campaigned on including the program in an original $3.5 trillion proposal. The now-pared-down version will mandate tax credits for electric vehicles, make pre-Kindergarten universal and extend the child tax credit by one year.

Many Democrats wanted to give new parents — as well as those caring for elderly relatives or loved ones battling medical conditions — 12 weeks of paid leave from their jobs.

“For too many workers, a sibling is the only family they have,” said Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-president of nonprofit A Better Balance, which helped to enact the state’s paid family leave program.

“Families come in different configurations,” she continued. “...Women and people of color in low-wage jobs are forced to choose between having a baby or caring for a loved one and losing their jobs. Sadly, we know that’s not the case for millions of workers across the country who don’t have the law on their side.”

State officials Monday criticized federal lawmakers for failing to include a national paid family leave plan.

“It’s truly unconscionable in the midst of a pandemic, jobs crisis and paid family leave is on the cutting room in Congress,” Bakst said. “We need paid leave for all and we won’t stop fighting for that until that happens.”

Private employers can voluntarily give workers paid parental leave. As of March 2021, 23% of private-sector workers had access to such a benefit, according to federal statistics. Paid sick leave was available to 77% of private-sector workers.

Nine states and the District of Columbia mandate that employers provide paid family and sick leave at varying lengths and salary amounts.

California workers, for example, get up to eight weeks of paid family leave and a year of medical leave annually; Rhode Island workers, meanwhile, get up to four weeks of family leave and 30 weeks of medical leave.

Hochul recalled how she was forced to quit her job 33 years ago when she and her husband welcomed a new baby.

“New York is so steeped in our progressive values ... I’m here to declare that taking care of your family is a basic right, the right to not lose your income when you make the horrible decision to take care of an elderly parent.”

A majority of workers have access to unpaid leave, thanks to the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. This legislation, however, excludes many part-time workers and smaller employers. Nearly 45% of workers are not eligible for such leave, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive Washington-based think tank.

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

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