October 19, 2009: FLI program helps improve family life in New Jersey

New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance program took effect July 1 of this year, providing workers with up to six weeks of paid benefits to care for sick family members, newborn and newly-adopted children. Governor Corzine signed the legislation in May, making New Jersey the third state (along with CA and WA) in the nation to adopt such a program, and the second to implement. California was the first state to implement paid family leave.

NJPP has supported paid family leave since legislation was first introduced almost ten years ago. In a 2001 report, research director Mary Forsberg noted that, “Today it is ironic that those who have the least need for paid family leave often have the greatest access, while those with the greatest need often have the least access. Indeed, the person most likely to be given paid leave is a salaried male with a relatively high education and income who works for a company of 50 or more. The person least likely to be given a paid leave is a young woman with children who is paid hourly, earns less than $20,000 a year and works in the service sector. The man is more likely to be taking time off for his own health problems; the woman is more likely to be taking time off to care for her children or her parents. The man is more likely to be able to absorb the cost of an unpaid leave than the woman earning $20,000 a year.”

Since July 1, more than 7,100 family leave claims have been approved. Of those, a little over 80% percent of claims are for bonding with a newborn or newly adopted child; the rest are claims to care for a seriously ill family member. Most of the claims that have been rejected are due to an insufficient relationship between the claimant and family member who is ill-only an illness involving a parent, spouse or child qualifies for leave, in-laws do not. In addition, intermittent bonding or care, such as taking leave one day a week to bond with a new child, is not included in the program.

As of October 1, workers have paid approximately $60 million into the FLI fund. The total of FLI benefit claims paid through October 1 is about $11.4 million. Benefits are funded entirely by employee payroll deductions with a maximum annual employee contribution in 2009 of $26.01-approximately 50 cents per week. If the rate remains the same throughout 2010 – 0.12 percent on wages up to $29,700 – workers will pay $35.64 in payroll deductions. Participating workers receive benefits equal to no more than two-thirds of their weekly pay, up to a maximum weekly benefit in 2009 of $546. It is also important to note that FLI does not necessarily give workers the right to return to their job after a period of family leave.

Any employee who has worked at least 20 weeks for any covered employer (not necessarily the one they’re working for at the time they need the leave) can apply, as long as they’ve earned 20 times the minimum wage (currently $145) in each of those weeks. FLI benefits are also available to any employee who has earned about $7,200 in the previous 52 weeks before they need the leave.

The dynamics of work and family have changed drastically in the last 50 years. It’s important that the workplace reflect this by helping workers maintain a healthful balance.

For more information on FLI visit the Department of Labor and Workforce Development website.