New Jersey Labor Commissioner Joins Time to Care Coalition to Celebrate Improvements to Paid Family & Medical Leave Programs Starting July 1, 2020
For Immediate Release
July 1, 2020 — New Jersey Labor Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo joined members of the NJ Time to Care Coalition — including advocates, parents, and policy experts — in a virtual press conference to recognize and celebrate the first day of enhanced benefits for paid family and medical leave in New Jersey that took effect today, July 1, 2020. The new improvements will benefit fathers and mothers, children, caregivers, employers and more.
“These expanded benefits make New Jersey a national leader in providing income-sustaining leave to new parents bonding with a child and workers who need time off to care for a seriously ill family member,” said New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “I want to thank Gov. Murphy and our legislative partners for putting New Jersey families first.”
Participants in the online press conference discussed the need to improve the programs to address inequities in access to New Jersey’s Family Leave (FLI) and Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) programs. The need to expand New Jersey’s FLI and TDI programs were outlined in a 2017 report by New Jersey Policy Perspective.
“Since its implementation, New Jersey’s family leave insurance program provided critical relief for tens of thousands of workers who needed to take time off to be with a newborn or sick family member,” said Sheila Reynertson, Senior Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). “Too many New Jerseyans were missing out on the benefits, however, due to design flaws that undermined the impact of the program. These new expansions will make the program stronger and allow families to fulfill urgent caregiving needs without slipping deeper into financial hardship.”
Paid family leave can improve maternal and child health, race and gender disparities in the workplace and in health, breastfeeding uptake and duration, worker’s labor force attachment, reduced healthcare costs as a result of faster recovery, improved overall health outcomes, workers’ families’ economic stability, and employer’s recruitment and retention of workers, improving their bottom lines.
“There is a wealth of research on the extensive benefits of paid family leave, making it clear that all workers must have access to this program,” said Yarrow Willman-Cole, the Workplace Justice Program Director at New Jersey Citizen Action. “Our state paid family leave programs should not inadvertently replicate the inequities that exist when we rely on the private sector to offer paid leave benefits. New Jersey must ensure that our public policies are built for everyone. Today’s expansion will do just that and make it possible for more workers to take advantage of the countless benefits associated with paid leave.”
Some of the improvements to the Family Leave and Temporary Disability Insurance programs took effect when Governor Murphy signed the bill into law on February 19, 2019. However, the most significant enhancements to the program took effect today, July 1, 2020.
The changes that take effect today are: an increase in the weekly benefit rate and maximum benefit for both Family Leave and Temporary Disability Insurance, which will be calculated at 85% of a claimant’s average weekly wage, up to a maximum of $881 per week; an increase in the maximum benefit period for Family Leave Insurance, where workers will be able to claim up to 12 consecutive weeks’ benefits during a 12-month period (increased from the current maximum of six weeks) or 56 intermittent days (increased from 42 days); and the ability for workers to continue some part-time work.
“The expansions to the New Jersey Family Leave Insurance program provide a critical lifeline to working family caregivers who are too often faced with the impossible choice of needing to work to pay the bills or needing to care for a loved one of any age,” said Crystal McDonald, Associate State Director of Advocacy for AARP New Jersey. “The expansion doubles the amount of paid leave available and allows more family caregivers to be able to afford to take the time they need to care for a loved one by significantly increasing wage replacement. This provides much needed relief to the more than 1 million New Jerseyans who care for an adult loved one, including a parent, in-law, grandparent, sibling, or person who plays a family role.”
The increased wage replacement will especially allow more low income workers afford to take leave and expansion of the duration of Family Leave Insurance from 6 weeks to 12 consecutive weeks will help more new parents can afford to bond with their new child that will have positive effects on their long-term cognitive, social, and emotional development.
“A stronger paid family leave system in New Jersey will mean more babies spending more of their critical first months bonding with their parents. I can directly attest to family leave’s benefits having taken paid time off after the birth of my son in 2019,” said Peter Chen, Policy Counsel at Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “Secure attachments with parents and caregivers are a critical first step for all children, and these attachments take time to build. Beyond the benefits of forming strong attachments, the availability of paid leave for both parents is associated with improved outcomes, including lower rates of infant mortality and postpartum depression and higher rates of breastfeeding, vaccination, doctor’s check-ups and father participation in caretaking.”
“With Melinated Moms, I cover the South Jersey area which has 3 out of 8 of New Jersey’s “Black Infant Mortality” cities which are Camden, Trenton and Atlantic City,” said Nicole Lawson, Jersey Shore Team Leader with Melinated Moms. “Our goal is to create safe spaces of support and provide resources for moms of color. The expanded paid family leave benefits will make it possible for more of the moms we support and that is critically important for their and their child’s health and wellbeing.”
“Families of children with disabilities and special healthcare needs welcome the expansion of paid family leave. Covid-19 shined a light on multiple inequities, including the pressures on those that are caring for ill floured ones. The additional weeks of leave will prove to be a huge relief to family caregivers as they juggle work and their families caregiving needs,” said Peg Kinsell, Policy Director with SPAN, the Parent Advocacy Network.
“The expanded wage replacement and increased maximum benefit period for the Family Leave Insurance program is much needed for workers who are just barely surviving on inadequate incomes. These changes give respect and dignity to hard workers who were previously faced with the extremely difficult decision to lose badly needed wages or not be there at a critical time for a loved one,” said Renee Koubiadis, Executive Director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey. “Paid family leave will now provide more economic and racial equity as most low-wage workers are women and people of color who were unable to use the program before. They can now have peace of mind to be there for a family member without jeopardizing their financial security.”
“Birthing women who we serve can now have more time to heal and bond with their new babies and not be forced to rush back to work because of financial pressures,” said Arelis Martinez, Co-Director for the Sister to Sister Community Doula Project at the Parent Advocacy Network. “So many black women and women of color face increased negative health outcomes in part because of lack of access to paid family leave and this will help improve not only their health but also their economic well-being.”
The New Jersey Department of Labor oversees administration of the Temporary Disability and Family Leave Insurance programs. They released guidance for new parents to maximize their benefits, it can be viewed at https://bit.ly/DOLnewparentexpansion. Workers can visit the Department of Labor website, myleavebenefits.nj.gov for more information and to apply for benefits.