Obama boosts paid family, medical leave

First lady Michelle Obama was interviewed by Robin Roberts during a summit on working families.
First lady Michelle Obama was interviewed by Robin Roberts during a summit on working families.CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON — California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island are the only states that offer paid family and medical leave to workers, a policy that got a high-profile boost last week from President Obama.

The White House hosted a summit on working families Monday to raise awareness of issues including child care, paid family leave, and equal pay. In a speech, Obama called the three states that offer paid family and medical leave ones that ‘‘are setting a good example.’’

Such issues have emerged as key to Democrats as they seek to shore up support among women and portray Republicans as unsympathetic on issues of concern to them. Allies of Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Washington Post that the issue would be a key part of a 2016 presidential bid if she runs.


Part of Obama’s push includes a proposal to offer $5 million in funding to support state-level initiatives offering leave to workers to care for new babies or ailing relatives, such as those in place in the three states. (Washington state also passed a law, but it was not implemented. )

All three fund the benefit available to workers in the public and private sector through an employee-paid tax, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. As is often the case, such state laws can serve as models not only to others, but also to the federal government. Here’s a look at what each state’s paid-leave law offers:

California. California passed the nation’s first paid-leave law in 2002, but the benefits didn’t kick in until the summer of 2004. Since then, about 1.7 million claims have been filed, 1.5 million of them by parents seeking to take time to care for new children, according to state data.

Each worker can take up to six weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member. A worker gets about 55 percent of their weekly wage, with a minimum of $50 and maximum of $1,075. Researchers last year found that the state’s law boosted weekly work hours and wages of mothers of children between the ages of 1 and 3.


■  New Jersey. Benefits went into effect in 2009 and give workers up to six weeks of coverage at two-thirds their pay to care for a sick family member or bond with a new child. The maximum weekly benefit is $595, according to NCSL.

A 2013 Rutgers University study found that 4 out of 5 people used the benefit to bond with new children, while 1 in 5 used it to care for a seriously ill family member.

It also found the program had broad support, with three of four people polled in August 2012 viewing it favorably.

Awareness of the program, however, appeared to be low, with more than half of respondents saying they didn’t know much or anything about it. Those most in need were also those who knew the least about the program.

■  Rhode Island. Rhode Island became the third state to offer paid leave at the start of this year. Workers are eligible for up to four weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or sick family member.

The benefit ranges from $72 to $752 per week based on earnings and applies to all private-sector employees and public employees who opt into the program, according to NCSL.