California's Paid Family Leave is worth replicating

ADVERTISEMENT
So this is a fitting time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of a great bipartisan achievement in American politics – California’s Paid Family Leave Act, the nation’s first paid family leave insurance law. Prior to the passage of the Paid Family Leave Act, many working Californians could not afford to take time off from their jobs to care for a very sick family member. Mothers had to return to their jobs just weeks after giving birth rather than continue the critical work of bonding with a newborn. While state and federal law ensured job protection for workers at businesses with 50 or more employees, those leave rights were out of reach to many low-wage workers. Calls from working Californians to Equal Rights Advocates employee hotline made clear that leave without a paycheck was not an option for families already living hand to mouth.

In response, California advocates and policy makers came up with a common sense solution to a very real problem. The Paid Family Leave Act, authored by then State Senator Sheila Kuehl, was supported by a broad coalition of advocates, unions and community groups and passed with strong support from Democrats and Republicans who came together to provide relief for hardworking Californians and their families.
 
California’s Paid Family Leave Act is funded directly by workers and administered by the state disability insurance system. It provides partial wage replacement (up to 55% of wages) for up to six weeks to workers who must take time to care for a seriously ill family member or care for a newborn.
 
The law, though modest, has made a profound difference for workers during critical times of family crisis and joy. Workers no longer have to choose between a paycheck and taking a parent to chemotherapy treatments. Fathers no longer have to abandon a newborn during a time critical to bonding.  Mothers can accompany a chronically ill child to the hospital without worrying about paying rent. On a personal note, in the ten years since the law’s passage, I have taken paid family leave after the births of two daughters and encouraged my husband to do the same. This time together with our children would not have been possible without paid family leave.  

As we move closer to Election Day, it is important to remember that real solutions are possible. We should hold candidates and elected leaders who talk about family values accountable to their policies and Californians should celebrate our great bipartisan accomplishment of the Paid Family Leave Act.  

Farrell is executive director of Equal Rights Advocates. Equal Rights Advocates is a women’s legal advocacy organization based in San Francisco, California.  ERA is a member of the California Work and Family Coalition whose members were instrumental in the passage of the Paid Family Leave Act.