This morning, the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee heard testimony from parents, business owners, health care experts, community leaders, and representatives from the Washington Work and Family Coalition on House Bill 1116, Paid Family and Medical Leave.
“Our state is a leader in the tech economy, but unlike most developed economies in the world, we still don’t have paid family leave, even though it’s something all of us will need at some point in our lives,” said Rep. June Robinson (D-Everett), the bill’s prime sponsor. “Paid family and medical leave is great for new parents and their babies, but it’s also for workers dealing with long term health issues, or to care for family members who are ill or elderly.”
The measure would allow workers to take up to 26 weeks of paid family leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or to take care of a seriously ill family member, and up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave for a worker’s own serious health condition. It would be funded by payroll premiums paid by both employees and employers, costing each about $2 a week for a typical Washington worker – making it extremely affordable for both workers and business owners.
“Our coalition created this policy based on what’s already working in other states and what doctors recommend,” said Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director for the Economic Opportunity Institute, which convenes the Washington Work and Family Coalition. “Our proposal will improve health and financial stability for Washington’s working families and strengthen our economy.”
Paid family leave would mean better health outcomes for women, babies and families. Despite the high costs of infant childcare and pediatricians’ recommendations to breastfeed for at least six months, one in four women go back to work within two weeks of childbirth because they can’t afford to stay home longer.
“In my clinic, I witness the difference it makes when a family can afford to take unpaid leave – the difference it makes in reducing parental stress and post-partum depression, and in uptake and duration of breastfeeding,” said Dr. Lelach Rave, a pediatrician in Everett. “I know the evidence is clear: providing paid leave to parents improves child and family health and families’ financial security.”
The proposal would also provide important benefits to Washington’s military families and veterans. Paid family leave would allow leave for “military exigency” – when a family member is on active duty or called to active duty, so families could take time to move, or cover childcare for the service member, seek counseling, take care of financial concerns, or simply spend a couple weeks with a loved one before they’re deployed.
“When it comes to taking care of our vets, sometimes the best thing we can do is support their families,” said Raymond Miller, a veterans’ advocate, PTSD counselor and president of Vets Place Northwest – Welcome Home. “Having a spouse able to stay home to help them while they’re struggling with PTSD could mean getting into treatment faster, and having a spouse there to receive medical instructions and help with support at home can mean the difference between life and death.”
A recent poll showed at least 72 percent of Washington voters supported passing paid family and medical leave. Robinson, the Washington Work and Family Coalition and the bill’s many backers hope this is the year it gets to Gov. Inslee’s desk.
For more testimony on this measure, watch the hearing on TVW here.