PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A new law that recently passed will give people more freedom with paid family medical leave — a move public health advocates are calling historic.
The social insurance program is a big deal for families because Oregon will soon have the most inclusive law in the country. It will include 100% wage replacement for low-wage workers — and it has an inclusive definition of family, so no matter who you need to care for, you’ll be able to take the time off.
Currently, under Oregon law, people can’t take time off for siblings. With the new law, people will be able to take time off for extended family, non-blood related family and LGBTQ+ chosen family.
“That is truly revolutionary,” Lili Hoag, the political director at Family Forward Oregon and campaign lead for Time to Care coalition, told KOIN 6 News.
How it will work
Employers and employees will pay into a program run by the employment department. They’ll receive up to 12 weeks off and an extra two weeks for those who are giving birth.
The time off will be paid and it will be progressive wage replacement, which means those earning the lowest wages will receive up to 100% of their wages. People making more money will progressively make less, up to a cap.
Employers with over 25 employees will pay into the program as will the employees. All employees will have access to the program.
“What we know is that paid family leave isn’t a new idea,” Hoag said. “In fact, we’re one of only two countries in the world that doesn’t have such a program.”
Everyone in the state will have job-protected leave when they need time to care for their loved ones.
“This means that for regular life events, like birth, death and illness, we’ll actually have a plan for those,” Hoag said.
Employers will have a plan for when employees are out and they’ll be able to afford replacement wages to maintain their businesses while employees will be able to be there for the people they love most.
Over the past decade, Julia Goodman has extensively researched the impacts of paid family leave policies.
At first, she was studying how to encourage mothers to breastfeed.
“One of the main reasons people stop breastfeeding is because they had to go back to work,” Goodman told KOIN 6 News.
Goodman realized in order to support women breastfeeding, to promote maternal and child health and better birth outcomes, people need time to care for themselves and others.
“Paid family leave medical policies encourage women to breastfeed, breastfeed longer and achieve their breastfeeding goals,” she said. “It’s linked to lowering infant mortality and better birth outcomes.”
Paid family medical leave goes beyond birth. Studies show families were less likely to send a parent to a nursing home when they had access to paid family medical leave.
It’s also important for the economic security of family members, whether people need to care for an aging family member, a new baby or for an illness.
“We’re starting to understand that there are health implications of paid family medical leave across the life course,” Goodman said. “This kind of policy allows for people to take that time without the risk of losing their jobs, without losing a paycheck.”
Being able to take time off without losing money is important, especially for those with lower incomes.
“For the first time, low-wage workers will have access to full-wage replacement for this period,” Goodman said.
The money breakdown: How it will be funded
It will be funded by joint contributions.
Employers with over 25 employees will pay 40% of up to 1% of payroll and all employees will pay 60% of up to 1% of payroll.
When on leave, people will get paid by the employment department. They’ll authorize an employee’s time off and will actually be paying the employee’s replacement wage from this social insurance fund.
The program will start taking contributions in 2022, and people will be able to start using it in 2023.
It will take a few years to get started because it’s a new social insurance program, just like unemployment insurance or workers compensation.
“So we need to develop the programs, protocols, hire people to run the program and actually set up the fund,” Hoag said.
How this helps the local economy
“Our economy is made up of individuals, and when those individuals are struggling, our economy is struggling,” Hoag said.
When individual family economies get fired or have to leave their job for caregiving responsibilities, Hoag said it harms the local economy.
“Because the same people that work in your business that need paid leave are also your customers, so when all families thrive, our economies thrive,” Hoag told KOIN 6 News.