TRENTON – Legislation authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senator Patrick Diegnan and Senator M. Teresa Ruiz that would expand New Jersey’s Paid Family Leave Law was approved by the Senate Budget Committee today. The bill, S-2528, would expand the current insurance program that allows employees to take time off from work to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child, or for a sick parent, spouse or child by increasing the weekly benefit and lengthening the leave time.
“Family leave insurance can be a lifeline for working families and their loved ones,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland), who authored the law creating the leave program in 2009. “For parents of newborns or adopted children, or those who need time to care for a seriously ill family member, paid leave offers them the ability to balance the obligations of work and family without jeopardizing their economic security.”
New Jersey, which is currently one of only five states and Washington, D.C. with paid leave in effect, would provide some of the lengthiest leave time and most generous benefits in the country with the new bill.
“Expanding the provisions of paid leave will allow more people to make use of it and will give them more time with newborn children or to care for loved ones who are experiencing serious medical problems,” said Senator Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Working families should not be forced to choose between a paycheck and the critical needs of their families. This is a compassionate program with practical benefits that will be expanded and improved.”
The number of weeks of benefits would be doubled from six to 12 in any one-year time period. The length of intermittent leave would also be increased from 42 to 56 days. And the weekly benefits for all temporary disability claims, including family leave, would increase from two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly wage to 85 percent of pay, capped at 70 percent of the average weekly wage for all workers in New Jersey, up from the current 53 percent cap. The average benefit an individual received for family leave in 2017 was $540 a week. It would increase to $689 under the new legislation. The maximum benefit an individual could receive for either Family Leave Insurance (FLI) or Temporary Disability Insurance(TDI)would increase from $638 to $842.
“Paid leave will allow workers to take the time they need for important family matters without losing the income necessary to support themselves and their families,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Employees shouldn’t have to worry about taking care of their families and endangering their financial safety.”
The legislation would also:
- Expand eligibility for the program by revising the definition of “family” to include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, parents-in-law and those who are the “equivalent” of family members;
- Allocate $2 million from the FLI fund to help increase awareness of the program, which will help boost participation through required outreach, reporting and goals by the Department of Labor & Workforce Development;
- Include enhanced anti-retaliation job protections for employees working for employers who employ 30 or more employees, reduced from the current threshold of 50 or more employees;
- Allow leave insurance for workers who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault and for family members who care for these victims;
- Reduce the tax burden on workers with low incomes by broadening the wages on which taxes for TDI and FLI are levied from 28 times the statewide average weekly wage (about $33,700) to 107 times the statewide average weekly wage (about $128,000).
Employers will not be required to contribute more to the TDI fund and employees will pay an amount comparable to what they paid for the majority of the time TDI has been in existence. The committee vote was 9-2-1.