The data show that parents who can take paid family leave devote more time to feedings and doctors’ visits, and their children are healthier as a result.
Washington’s new paid family and medical leave policy makes me proud of my state. It’s not just the groundbreaking policy, which fills a need for every worker in Washington. It’s also the way our state government worked together to hammer out a paid-leave bill that people across the political spectrum wanted to support.
The United States is the only developed country in the world that does not guarantee workers any form of paid leave. In fact, many women don’t even get a paid day off to have a child.
But starting in 2020, Washington’s workers will be able to take up to 16 weeks paid leave, which gives them the time they need to tend to their loved ones. The wage replacement, up to $1,000 a week, means people will be able to support themselves while taking advantage of the policy.
The eligibility criteria are flexible: new parents, people caring for a sick relative and people fighting a severe illness are covered.
Finally, the way the paid leave is funded is sensible and fair. Employees and employers share the costs, and small-business owners receive extra support so they don’t struggle when an employee needs to take leave.
But just as important as the policy itself is the way Washington arrived at it. The bill was passed with strong bipartisan support, including sponsors from both parties. A Democratic governor, a Republican Senate and a Democratic House rallied around the law.
The collaboration didn’t stop with our elected officials. Businesses large and small, labor and advocacy groups across Washington saw the need for paid leave, and they worked together with legislators to design a bill they could support.
The reason for so many strange bedfellows is that paid leave helps so many different people meet so many different, pressing needs.
As the mother of three, I am thankful that I was able to take time to recover from my pregnancies and births — and to bond with my children. Every parent in Washington should be able to do the same.
And every baby in Washington needs their parents to be able to do the same. The data show that parents who can take leave devote more time to feedings and doctors’ visits, and their children are healthier as a result.
Not everybody has children, but everybody has a family. I’m 52, and a lot of people my age are now caring for elderly parents. Unfortunately, I also know a lot of people who are sick and need time to fight their illness, and they deserve a policy that’s on their side.
Hardworking Washingtonians should never have to make impossible choices between being there for a loved one and earning a paycheck. Our new law means that Washingtonians can live up to their family responsibilities and face these challenges with undivided attention and peace of mind.
Some people agree in principle but then ask, “Can we afford it?” The beauty is that paid leave is good for employees and employers. When workers are able to take paid leave, they like their jobs more and are more productive and more likely to stay. That’s why so many employer and business groups supported Washington’s policy.
In the months and years to come, we need to keep an eye on two developments.
First, implementation. Having the policy is great, but we have to make it work in practice. To help with that, Washington will appoint an advisory commission to collect data on how people are using the program and make recommendations to strengthen it.
Second, watch what other states and the federal government do. Washington is one of the pioneers and now joins California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia in passing a paid family and medical leave policy. Our policy could be a model, and the example we set here as well as the lessons we learn here can help more families around the country.
My hope is that, one day, every American will have access to paid family and medical leave. Achieving this goal will require the federal government to take action.
I am optimistic that it will happen because this issue affects everyone.
In the meantime, I hope more states will see what Washington has done, and the way we’ve done it, and join us in helping their citizens be present when their families need them most.
We should all be proud to be Washingtonians.