H1N1 and the recession have focused public attention on the need for new policies that enable all workers to take time off to care for themselves and their families – without undermining family economic security. Here’s what’s going on in Washington state and around the country.
Washington Family Leave Insurance
One of the casualties of the Great Recession was funding for an October 2009 launch of Washington’s vanguard Family and Medical Leave Insurance program. At the outset of the 2009 legislative session, it appeared our strong Family Leave Coalition had won the necessary support from state policy makers to expand benefits. These benefits would have covered care for a worker’s own health condition or a seriously ill family member and care for a new child–all funded by a modest payroll premium. However, the depths of the state fiscal crisis derailed those plans, and the legislature postponed implementation until October 2012.
The result: an estimated 72,000 families that would have benefited from family and medical leave insurance in 2010 will continue to struggle with issues of family health and economic security. However, in spite of the delay, family leave insurance remains state law. And funding the program, maybe with some federal assistance (more below), remains the top priority for the Family Leave Coalition as we emerge from this recession.
New federal support for healthy families and healthy workplaces
The Economic Opportunity Institute and the Washington Family Leave Coalition have worked with national partners to develop and promote a unified agenda for federal action on work and family issues. Our proposal has three policy recommendations for federal action, one of which is to make family and medical leave fully accessible by providing federal funds to states.
Members of Congress have responded by introducing the FIRST Act, which would underwrite the start-up costs of family leave insurance programs–following our recommendation. But our supporters are not limited to the Congress. In the White House, both President Obama and the First Lady have embraced paid family leave and paid sick days as key policies necessary to support working families and rebuild the middle class.
Minimum paid sick days
Public health authorities are requesting workers and students to stay home when they get symptoms of the flu. However, 1.2 million workers in our state (over 40%) have no paid sick days. That makes for economic hardship and potential job loss when workers take sick leave for themselves or to care for their children.
But now, public policy change is happening all over the country. In San Francisco and Milwaukee voters have already approved laws setting minimum standards for paid sick days, and DC’s city council adopted a similar ordinance. Other cities and states around the country are considering new laws in a growing movement spurred by concerns for public health, family economic security and leveling the playing field for businesses.
At the federal level, the Healthy Families Act (House, Senate) has been introduced in Congress–and if passed would set a minimum standard for paid sick days for most workers. Over 120 House members have already signed on to the bill, and we are looking forward to continued success in the upcoming year.
We bring Paid Sick Days to communities around our state too! Stay tuned for exciting developments in 2010.
Taking action: What you can do now and in the year ahead
Right now: Let your Congressperson and our Senators know that you support the Healthy Families Act and the FIRST Act here.
Coming in 2010: Before long, we’ll be gearing up to elect a new state legislature and members of Congress. Candidates need to know that work and family issues are a high priority for voters! Let candidates know that you support paid sick days and full funding for family and medical leave insurance – and you expect them to support those issues, too!
Have a happy and healthful new year!
~The Washington Family Leave Coalition