Measure Would Boost Insurance Benefits for Family/Medical Care
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 a Senate committee today. The bill, S-2528, would expand the current insurance program that allows employees to take time 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, 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 now one of only four states with paid leave, would have the lengthiest 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. “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 doubled, going from 42 to 84 days. And the weekly benefits would increase from two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly wage to 90 percent of their pay, capped at 100 percent of the average weekly wage for all workers in New Jersey. The maximum benefit an individual could receive this past year was $633 a week. It would increase to $1,195 under the new legislation.
“What could be an economic challenge under normal circumstances for working families can be unaffordable when a family member experiences a serious health problem or when parents want to devote time to a newborn at a critical time in the lives of the child and the parents,” said Senator Ruiz. “Paid leave will allow workers to take the time for important family needs without losing the income they must have to support themselves and their families.”
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 $1.5 million from the insurance fund to help increase awareness of the program, which will help boost participation through required outreach, reporting and goals by the Department of Labor;
- 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 for leave insurance for workers who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault and for family members to care for these victims;
- Update the Temporary Disability Insurance law so that benefits for pregnancy-related medical problems and recovery from childbirth match family leave so that individuals utilizing both programs receive consistent compensation before and after the birth of their children.
Employers will not be required to contribute more to the TDI fund and employees will not pay any more in their contribution to both the FLI and TDI funds than what they paid when the leave program started in 2009, according to the way the benefits are calculated in the legislation.
The Senate Labor Committee endorsed the bill with a vote of 3-1-1.