LEGISLATIVE NEWS: Berry Bill to Expand Paid Family and Medical Leave Program on its Way to Governor

OLYMPIA – The Washington House of Representatives voted 56-42 to concur with Senate amendments and send HB 1073, a bill to expand Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) coverage to families who lost eligibility for the program as a result of job losses or furloughs due to COVID-19, to the Governor’s desk.

In January 2020, Washington launched it’s first in the nation PFML program that allows eligible employees to take paid time off to care for a sick family member or bond with a newborn child. To be eligible, employees must work at least 820 hours in the last year. However, because many employees were laid off due to the pandemic, many were made ineligible for the PFML program at a time when it was vitally needed. HB 1073, sponsored by the Vice Chair of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee, Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle), solves this problem by allowing workers to use their 2019 hours worked to qualify for PFML benefits.

“As a mom of two little kids, I know how vital this program is for working families in our state,” said Berry. “Paid Family and Medical Leave has improved the health and economic stability of working families across Washington. However, there are an estimated 42,000 workers who through no fault of their own have been excluded from this program. This bill ensures that those Washingtonians, who dutifully paid into the PFML system, get access to these benefits.”

HB 1073 also creates an employer grant for businesses with under 150 employees to hire a temporary worker as the result of an employee going on leave.

“It is simple, if you paid into the PFML program, you should not lose coverage as a result of the pandemic,” Berry said.

HB 1073 would be funded by a one-time general fund appropriation paid for by federal stimulus dollars. Currently, there is $200 million budgeted for this program in both the House and Senate budgets.

The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 27-20 on April 7 and the House with a vote of 56-40 on March 3. It now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.