New Jersey considers doubling family leave from 6 to 12 weeks

In this March 5, 2018 photo, Wil Darcangelo, (left), speaks with his 22-year-old adopted daughter, Lavender, who is blind and autistic, while friend and housemate, Christoph Malvaney, listens at their home.

In this March 5, 2018 photo, Wil Darcangelo, (left), speaks with his 22-year-old adopted daughter, Lavender, who is blind and autistic, while friend and housemate, Christoph Malvaney, listens at their home. "Chosen families" have quietly been gaining political recognition in some laws that require paid sick time for millions of private-sector employees to take care of themselves or family members. (Elise Amendola/AP Photo)

A bill advanced by the Senate Labor Committee would expand New Jersey’s paid family leave program. If passed by the Legislature, it would double the time from 6 weeks to 12 that workers could take off.

Dena Mottola Jaborska with New Jersey Citizen Action said she is pleased the legislation would increase the wage replacement rate when workers take family leave.

“Workers who are working at the lower income level will be able to get 90 percent of their salary. And workers who are at the higher earning level will be able to earn the average weekly wage in this state, which is about $1,200, and that is really what is considered minimally livable in our state,” said Jaborksa.

Those increases will make a big difference for low-income workers, according to Renee Koubiadis with the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey.

“They are faced with the extremely difficult decision, and many times emotional, to not take time off to care for a loved one and continue working because only receiving two-thirds of their salary would drive them deeper into poverty or into poverty in our high cost state,” said Koubiadis.

The definition of family would be expanded to include siblings, adult children, foster children, parents-in-law, grandparents, and grandchildren.

Crystal McDonald with AARP New Jersey said that will allow more caregivers to utilize the program.

“It’s really a benefit to that family, but also to the state in making sure that person can remain at home and out of more costly state-funded institutions,” said McDonald.

Current law provides protections against employer retaliation for workers who qualify for family leave coverage and work at companies with 50 or more employees. The legislation would reduce that threshold to 30.

That doesn’t go far enough, according to Eric Richard with the state AFL-CIO.

“The folks that are working for those employers, 30 or less, are still paying into a fund, the Paid Family Leave Fund, that they cannot utilize with the fear of losing their jobs,” he said.

Christina Renna with the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce said she is concerned about whether the current payroll deduction for the family leave insurance program will provide enough money to expand it.

“Do we know that we can sustain that with the current dollars that are going into the fund with the payroll tax?” she said. “If not, if it’s not sustainable, then where does the tax get increased?”

Business groups are also concerned that the expansion of the program will increase their costs to pay overtime or hire fill-in workers when employees take family leave.

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