California Celebrates 10th Anniversary of Paid Family Leave Program

Today in California's Capitol, State Elected Officials, Labor Leaders, Community Advocates, Parents and Caregivers came together to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the nation's first paid family leave program. Additionally, the groups shared research on the program and highlighted the need for increased awareness of its benefits among low-income, hourly and Latino workers. 

Since being implemented in July 2004, the Paid Family leave program has helped more than 1.7 million working Californians take up to six weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child or care for a sick family member. Starting today, the first expansion of the benefit will allow California workers to care for additional family members—siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and parents-in-law. 

The California Work & Family Coalition, a project of Next Generation, is sponsoring the event with the California Labor Federation, and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center. The organizations were instrumental in passing both the original Paid Family Leave legislation, and its expansion.

Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation said:

“When workers can take paid time off to care for a loved one, it makes our families and communities stronger. It provides an important safety net for those who can’t afford to go without a paycheck. It’s the kind of family friendly law we’ve become known for in California. California’s unions were proud to sponsor the first paid family leave bill 10 years ago. And we’re proud to support its expansion, which goes into effect today.”

A national conversation is now taking place about paid family leave—sparked by last year’s introduction of the FAMILY Act (Gillibrand, D-NY) and the recent White House Summit on Working Families—that holds up California’s program as a model. But despite the importance of paid family leave nationally, many eligible Californians remain unaware of the state’s program. Nearly every private-sector worker in California contributes a portion of their salary to the State Disability Insurance (SDI) system that disburses benefits, but only a fraction ever make claims. In Los Angeles County, for example, only 31.4 percent of eligible workers are aware of the program. Awareness is lowest among low-income workers, hourly workers and Latinos. 

Ann O’Leary, Vice President and Director of the Children & Families program at Next Generation said:

“During a time when more families depend on two incomes, more single-parent households exist and all families are struggling financially, our Paid Family Leave program is more important than ever in helping Californians balance workplace needs with family responsibilities.

“Paid family leave keeps working women employed, as it ensures that women—the primary caregivers for children and sick family members—can take leave for caregiving without risking their livelihood. Research has repeatedly shown that this benefits our communities and our economy.” 

A 2011 research report by Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman, Leaves That Pay: Employer and Worker Experiences with Paid Family Leave in California, showed that:

  • New mothers with paid leave benefits go back to work faster and are less likely to drop out of the labor force
  • Fathers with paid leave are more likely to take time off from work for the birth or illness of a child
  • Paid family leave reduces absenteeism and turnover
  • Employers have reported either a positive effect or no noticeable effect on business profitability and productivity

Sharon Terman, Senior Staff Attorney at Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center:

“We already know that paid leave helps new mothers breastfeed longer and helps ill or injured adults receive high quality, loving care.  

“The recent expansion—formerly known as SB 770—will help many more families get the peace of mind and care they deserve. But we must make sure that we continue our outreach efforts so that groups that are currently unaware of this program don’t miss out.”

Donna Benton, a professional caregiver whose husband used paid leave benefits last year to care for his ailing mother said:

“I’m overjoyed at the progress that has been made to spread the word about our Paid Family Leave program. 

“However, awareness and use of the program is still too low. I am thankful to the legislators and community organizations that 10 years ago recognized the critical need to help people like me balance work and family.  The paid family leave program lessens my financial strain and most importantly, supports what I value most—my family.”

Research reports released today by the Employment Development Department and the California Senate Office of Research highlight personal stories of Californians who have used Paid Family Leave, and trends of use among different demographics.

To view more personal stories about Paid Family Leave in California, go www.paidfamilyleave.org.