RUTGERS STUDY: NJ’S PAID FAMILY LEAVE WOEFULLY UNDERUTILIZED
The Rutgers Center for Women and Work urges the state to raise awareness of the program, simplify the application process, and issue payments on time.
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (December 6, 2021) – As Congressional Democrats debate a national paid family leave policy in President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, a new report from the Rutgers Center for Women and Work finds New Jersey’s own program continues to suffer from red tape, payment delays, and low awareness among the low-wage workers who need it most.
“New Jersey is a national leader in policies that support working families, but our paid family leave program is still a work in progress,” said Debra Lancaster, executive director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. “When workers don’t know the program exists, or they have trouble applying, or the payments take too long to arrive, then clearly we have work to do.”
Enacted in 2009, New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance (FLI) provides up to 12 weeks of paid time off and wage replacement of up to 85% for workers caring for a new baby, a newly-adopted child, or a loved one who’s ill. Governor Murphy expanded the program in 2020, and the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOL) has taken steps to improve its implementation, but there is room for growth.
Supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Rutgers Center for Women and Work interviewed workers, employers, advocates, and state administrators to learn how DOL and other stakeholders can strengthen paid family leave in New Jersey. The report finds:
- Low Awareness: FLI has been around for 12 years, but only 53% of New Jerseyans know it exists. Part of the problem is that DOL hasn’t met its legal obligation to spend $1.2 million annually on education and outreach. The agency should release the funds.
- Problems Applying: Confusing questions on the application tripped up many of the workers we interviewed. DOL should create a user guide to help applicants navigate the process and an informational hotline for questions unrelated to a specific claim.
- Payment Delays: Many workers had to wait weeks or even months to receive their first FLI payment. This was especially harmful to low-wage workers with no other source of income. DOL is working to modernize its claims management system, which relies on a 1988 mainframe, but it must find a way to expedite payments in the meantime.
- HR Confusion: Though supportive of paid family leave, the human resources managers interviewed for our study felt ill-equipped to guide their employees through the process — and some didn’t know the program expanded last year. Employers should ensure that their HR staff use DOL’s employer toolkit and keep up with changes in the law.
- Culture Clash: In some workplaces, employees felt judged and even shamed for using FLI. Managers should work to normalize paid family leave by using the program themselves and by encouraging their staff to do the same when life demands it.
“Family leave insurance has the potential to make New Jersey a healthier and more equitable state,” said Maisha Simmons, director of New Jersey grantmaking at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “This report shows the way for this well-intentioned program to reach that potential.”
Previous studies have shown that paid family leave produces significant benefits, including better health outcomes for moms and children and greater economic security for low-paid and single moms. Dads are more likely to take an active role in caregiving, and moms are more likely to return to work after childbirth, when they use paid family leave.
About the School
The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships. SMLR’s Center for Women and Work (CWW) engages in research, education, and programming that promotes economic and social equity for women workers, their families, and communities.