Over the last decade, three states have enacted paid family and medical leave laws, but other states have yet to follow suit. To discuss these issues and encourage more states to take similar steps, the White House hosted a summit on working families on Monday to discuss child care, paid family leave, and equal pay.
President Obama pointed to California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island as three states leading the move towards better family leave policies (or any at all) in the United States. The president also announced a proposal offering $5 million to support state-level initiatives offering workers leave to care for new babies or ailing relatives. Obama remarked that family leave and child care "are basic needs," not merely "bonuses." In a blog, The Washington Post wrote, "Allies of Hillary Rodham Clinton told The Post that the issue would be a key part of a potential 2016 presidential bid."
California was the first state to pass a paid leave law back in 2002, offering six weeks of paid leave at about 55 percent of a worker's weekly pay, capped at $1,075. Since the benefits took effect two years later, The Washington Post reports that "about 1.7 million claims have been filed, with 1.5 million of them from parents seeking to take time to care for new children."
New Jersey enacted benefits in 2009, allowing workers to take six weeks of leave to bond with new children or care for a seriously ill family member while receiving two-thirds of wages, maxing out at $595 per week. The most recent state to take action is Rhode Island, where workers became eligible this year to receive up to four weeks of paid leave, based on earnings but limited to $752 per week.
All three states fund the initiatives through an employee-paid tax. Though the benefit is available to both public and private sector workers, many may not be using it because they don't know about it. The Post's blog points to a 2013 study of the New Jersey law in which more than half of survey respondents didn't know much about the program.
According to Monday's summit, Obama hopes to raise awareness of these initiatives so more workers can take advantage of them and other states enact them.
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