Bonnie Lawrence, Family Caregiver Alliance
(415) 434-3388 or info (at) caregiver.org
NEW ISSUE BRIEF: CALIFORNIA'S PAID FAMILY LEAVE LAW
Landmark legislation benefits working families; other states consider similar statutes
Family Caregiver Alliance’s National Center on Caregiving has released a new Issue Brief on the value of paid family and medical leave to working families and employers. The brief offers insight on why this issue is taking hold in the states.
The report, entitled Support for Working Family Caregivers: Paid Leave Policies in California and Beyond, describes the development and initial implementation of California’s landmark law, and its utilization by individuals who are juggling the competing demands of jobs and care for family members or partners with chronic or debilitating health conditions. The report also summarizes the progress towards similar statutes at federal and state levels.
On July 1, 2004, California’s groundbreaking Paid Family Leave Law went into effect. The legislation entitles most Californians to a maximum of six weeks of partial pay when they take a leave from work to care for a seriously ill parent, spouse, child, or domestic partner, or to bond with a new baby, foster or adopted child.
Introduced by State Senator Sheila Kuehl and sponsored by the California Labor Federation, the legislation created the first comprehensive paid leave program in the nation. Prior to the law’s enactment, many low-wage workers had limited access to benefits such as sick leave and vacation. (While the federal Family Medical Leave Act grants 12 weeks of unpaid family leave to eligible employees at large companies, many working families cannot afford to take the time off work without pay.)
California’s Paid Leave benefits are entirely employee-funded through the State Disability Insurance (SDI) program and allow employees to collect up to 55 percent of their salary per month while caring for their loved ones.
According to the state Employment Development Department, in the program’s first year of implementation, out of 13 million eligible workers, a total of 176,085 took paid leave from their jobs. While the majority took time off work to bond with a newborn, adopted or foster child, approximately 12 percent took advantage of the program to care for a seriously ill family member. The average weekly benefit was $409 (ranging from $50 to a maximum of $840); the average duration of the leave was just short of five weeks.
Although the program has been in effect for two years, and while recognition of the need for such a program is high among employees, roughly 70 percent remain unaware that the legislation is in place and that most workers are entitled to take a leave if needed. The brief suggests that increased efforts to inform workers of the benefit are needed for the law to reach its full potential.
According to Kathleen Kelly, Executive Director of Family Caregiver Alliance, “As the wave of Baby Boomers rapidly moves into the position of either needing care or providing it to a frail or elderly parent, as hospital stays are shortened and families are called upon to provide intensive healthcare to loved ones, as women—the traditional caregivers—maintain positions in the workplace and two-income families find it difficult to meet everyday financial obligations, California’s Paid Family Leave Law will become more and more important to the state’s workers.”
CAREGIVERS AND PAID LEAVE
Family caregivers have utilized the Paid Leave Law to attend to the needs of a loved one in severe or terminal stages of an illness; to assist someone newly discharged from the hospital or newly admitted to a nursing home; to assist frail family members who live far away; and to locate and train paid workers or establish community services that can help a disabled person remain in the home.
The law is limited, however, in its ability to assist with shorter-term absences caregiving families often require: time to accompany a loved one to medical appointments, to locate substitute help when paid aides do not show up for work, to calm an agitated Alzheimer’s sufferer, to assist someone who has fallen, to prepare meals or ensure that medications are available and taken properly, for example. In these instances, other measures sometimes provided by employers are helpful, such as flex time, or allowing employee sick leave to be used for caregiving.
For further information about the Paid Leave Law, visit: www.paidfamilyleave.org or www.edd.ca.gov. For additional information about work and eldercare, see the Family Caregiver Alliance Fact Sheet at www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/content_node.jsp?nodeid=413.
The new Issue Brief was funded in part by a grant from the Administration on Aging, Department of Health and Human Services. The brief is available without charge on the Family Caregiver Alliance website at www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/content_
node.jsp?nodeid=1679, or available in print by sending a check for $25 to Publication Orders, Family Caregiver Alliance, 180 Montgomery St., Ste. 1100, San Francisco, CA 94104.
Established in 1977, Family Caregiver Alliance is one of the largest and oldest organizations in the US devoted solely to caregivers. Its pioneering programs—information, education, services, research and advocacy—support and sustain the important work of families and friends caring for loved ones with chronic, disabling health conditions. Family Caregiver Alliance and its National Center on Caregiving offer programs at local, state and national levels. Visit www.caregiver.org or call (800) 445-8106 for more information.
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