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TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., that would allow employees to file disability claims for planned leaves earlier and receive benefits payments sooner was approved today by the Senate Labor Committee.

The bill, S-1838, permits individuals to submit temporary disability and family temporary disability leave claims up to 60 days prior to the start of a leave if an individual knows in advance when the leave will commence.  It would require the employer to submit information necessary to determine the individual’s eligibility for TDI and FLI benefits to both the individual and the Division of Unemployment and Temporary Disability Insurance in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development within nine days of notification. It would also require the Division to pay the benefit for such a claim upon commencement of the leave.

“The timing for pregnancies, adoptions and scheduled procedures for ourselves or family members is known in advance, so it makes sense to allow early submission of claims and obligate the employer to begin processing the paperwork right away,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex).  “This bill would prevent a lag in the payments workers depend on to meet their financial obligations while they’re on disability leave.  “It’s family-friendly legislation that takes the financial pressure off employees when they are already preoccupied with their health or the care of a family member.”

To meet the goal of avoiding this pay gap, the bill requires that both the Division and employers submit and process paperwork in a timeframe that would allow payment to the insured as soon as the leave begins.

“Claim processing times have slowed over recent years, and often cause covered individuals to receive their initial benefit payments weeks after their leave has begun or even after their leave has ended,” said Senator Diegnan (D-Middlesex).  “The goal of this legislation is to prevent those delays and avoid causing financial hardship on claimants and their families during times when they need as much security and peace of mind as possible.”

For such claims, the division must process the claim immediately and, upon finding that the claim is valid, pay the benefit upon the commencement of the leave or after any applicable one week waiting period.  However, if the division receives the claim less than 30 days before the commencement of the leave, the division shall make the benefit payment not more than 30 days after the receipt of the claim.  Under the bill, the TDI and FLI weekly benefit for claims submitted prior to the commencement of the leave is computed utilizing the individual’s average weekly wage in relation to when the individual submits the claim for benefits.

Temporary individual and family leaves covered by this bill would be those related to pregnancy or childbirth, care of a child after adoption or childbirth, scheduled medical procedures, treatments, or appointments and scheduled ongoing care.

Currently, the law does not explicitly prohibit a covered individual from submitting a temporary disability insurance claim or a family leave insurance claim prior to the leave’s start date. However, employers are not required to provide the necessary information to determine the individual’s eligibility for those leave benefits until the ninth day following the commencement of leave, and, therefore, the division cannot begin to process a claim until such documentation is received.

With today’s 5-0 vote, the bill moves to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.