john braun

WA state Senator John Braun

Washington’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FMLI) law, which passed in 2007, would provide paid leave to new parents caring for a newborn or newly adopted child. Unfortunately, the bill passed without a funding source, and fell victim to the recession that immediately followed. Until this year, FMLI had been tabled by legislators grappling with ongoing state budget woes.

With the state now pulling out of its recessionary tailspin, some legislators have introduced measures to both implement and expand the family and medical leave system. Not everyone supports that idea: Sen John Braun (R-20) has introduced a bill to repeal family and medical leave, arguing “It may have seemed like a good idea, but we don’t have the money to do it.”

But Braun’s argument just had a big hole punched in it by a fiscal note released on Friday, which shows the family leave bill has absolutely no impact on the state budget – zero, zilch, none. So much for the cost argument.

If legislators are serious about saving the state money, they should get busy and pass the new Family and Medical Leave Insurance bill. Why? Half of all births in Washington are covered by Medicaid, and just over 20 percent of new moms in Washington are eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). A paid family and medical leave system would greatly reduce the financial obligation of the state in this area, as it has in states with similar systems like California and New Jersey.

paid family leave and public assistance for new moms

New mothers that take paid family leave are 39% less likely to report using public assistance, and 40% less likely to use SNAP benefits (food stamps). In states with a Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) or Paid Family Leave (PFL) system, just 10% of new moms use public assistance, compared to 24% in other states (about 21% in Washington state).

Paid family leave allows new parents to take time away from work – without falling into poverty – to care for and bond with a new baby. That early investment in infant and maternal health also means more kids ready for school. Even those willing to overlook the social benefits of paid family leave shouldn’t overlook the economic implications for our state.

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