The Latest on Paid Family Leave & Why It Matters to Your MilFam

December 8, 2019

Life happens – People get sick. Tragedies strike. Babies are born. Spouses get deployed.

In situations like these, you or your partner might find yourselves in need of paid time off.

Introducing: NY’s Military Family Leave Policy

New York state currently allows the spouses, domestic partners, parents, and children of military service members to take up to 10 weeks of paid family leave to tend to situations arising out of the member’s active service in a foreign country or their notification of an impending call or order of active service to a foreign country. 

Under NY’s Paid Family Leave Act, military families can now take paid leave for the same reasons they could take unpaid leave under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), including:

  • Short-notice military deployment
  • Military events, which may include official ceremonies or informational briefings related to active duty
  • Military member’s rest, recuperation, or counseling
  • Post-deployment activities, which may include arrival ceremonies and reintegration events
  • Making financial/legal arrangements
  • Making childcare arrangements for the military member’s child

California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Washington will soon be rolling out their own military family paid leave policies in 2020 (WA) and 2021 (CA, CT, MA).

Hold on. What was that “FMLA thing you just mentioned?

Simply put, the FMLA was an early step in the right direction.

In 1993, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which guaranteed eligible employees job-protected, unpaid time off to care for a new child, a sick family member, or themselves. In 2010, the FMLA was expanded to allow military family members (including parents, spouses, and children) to take unpaid, job-protected leave to: 

  1. care for a wounded, ill, or injured service member, or
  2. address qualifying contingencies arising from deployment, such as:
    • preparing legal documents or resolving financial issues before a deployment (including Power of Attorney, wills, financial preparedness classes, etc.)
    • finding childcare before a deployment
    • attending school events for a child or dependent
    • attending pre- or post-deployment briefs
    • attending a military member’s send-off or homecoming

(Check out this guide for more on military family leave under the FMLA.)

While the FMLA is undoubtedly beneficial to some, many employees are financially incapable of taking advantage of unpaid leave. (Click here to learn more.)

That’s where paid family leave comes in.

Let’s unpack “paid family leave” a bit more.

Generally speaking, paid family leave (PFL) is a state-led initiative that provides partial income replacement for eligible workers to take time off to address health issues, care for sick family members, or (in some states) for deployment-related reasons. It is typically paid into by both the employer and employee in the state where the employer is located, though this can differ by state.

Currently, paid family leave is available in California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, and it will soon be available in the following states: Connecticut (2022), District of Columbia (2020), Massachusetts (2021), Oregon (2023), and Washington (2020). 

Who is eligible for PFL?

Eligibility varies state-to-state. Some states require a minimum number of employees on staff before they’ll fund paid family leave, while others require employees to work a certain amount of hours per year to qualify. 

(To learn more about your state’s eligibility requirements, check out the National Partnership for Women & Families’ Paid Leave Tracker.)

Some U.S. businesses voluntarily offer paid parental leave to their employees. In 2016, however, only 14% of civilian workers had access to paid family leave (National Compensation Survey).

Now, we know what you’re thinking: Why not just create a federal PFL policy?

Rather than wait for the state governments to create their own PFL policies, Congress could pass a federal PFL act guaranteeing all employees in the United States the same paid leave benefits.

As it stands, the United States is the ONLY industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee paid family leave for all of its citizens.

(That fact was underscored in the fifth Democratic debate on November 20, 2019, wherein the candidates discussed their respective PFL plans.)

Good news! PFL legislation is currently pending in Congress.

Three federal paid family leave policies were recently introduced to Congress:

  1. The New Parents Act, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), would allow new parents to take 1-3 months off work by borrowing from their future Social Security benefits – the catch being that such action would result in a three- to six-month delay in retirement or a reduction in the first several years of one’s Social Security payments.
  2. The CRADLE Act, sponsored by Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT), would give new parents the option of taking one, two, or three months of paid leave in exchange for delaying retirement benefits by two, four, or six months, respectively. 
  3. The FAMILY Act, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), differs in that it would fund paid family leave through a payroll tax instead of pulling from an employee’s future Social Security benefits. 
    1. The FAMILY Act would offer new parents up to 12 weeks of paid leave, at 66% of their monthly wages. This policy would be paid for by a 0.2% payroll tax paid by both employees and employers. For an average worker, the benefit would come with a price tag of less than $2 per week in added taxes. 

While the vast majority of Americans support the idea of paid family and medical leave, they’re divided over whether the federal government should: 

  1. require employers to pay their employees when they take family or medical leave (51%); or
  2. let employers decide for themselves whether to do so or not (48%) (Pew Research Center).

Here’s what you can do to support paid family leave:

Get in touch with your Congressional representatives and express how a paid family leave policy covering situations arising out of military service could help you and your family. 

  1. Call your congressman/congresswoman or senator at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be directed to the office of the representative/senator of your choosing.
  2. Locate your senator’s contact information here and your representative’s here.

Stay tuned for additional insights on this trending #MilFam topic & more!

We’ll be releasing the results of our 2019 Military Family Lifestyle Survey in early 2020. 

In the meantime, click here to join Blue Star Families for free today! We can’t wait to welcome you into our family.