TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney and Senator Barbara Buono which would provide paid family leave benefits for workers caring for sick family members and newborn or newly adopted children was approved Monday by the full Senate by a vote of 22 to 16.
“I’m sponsoring this legislation as a father, who understands the urgency of this type of leave time for working families, because I was in a similar situation 14 years ago when my daughter Lauren was born four months premature,” said Senate Majority Leader Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “Lauren remained in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit for 75 days, and either my wife or I was there with her round the clock. My boss understood and allowed me to take off the time I needed, but I can’t imagine having to choose between spending time with my daughter who was clinging to life, and going to work to be able to put food on the table for my wife and then four year-old son.”
The Senators’ bill, S-786, would authorize up to six weeks of employee paid family leave (family temporary disability leave) during any 12 month period, during which an employee could take time off to care for an ill family member, or a newborn or recently adopted child. Employees would receive two-thirds of their weekly salary, up to $524 per week.
“Far too many individuals have had to make the tough decision between caring for a loved one and being able to maintain their income. Far too many new mothers and fathers have had to rush back to work after the birth of their child,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “These are choices that should never have to be made in the United States and soon they will no longer be choices forced upon New Jersey families.”
Workers would have to exhaust maternity and disability leave time prior to being eligible for paid family leave. Workers would also have to use at least two weeks of sick leave and vacation time before using paid family leave time, according to the bill.
“According to an Eagleton Institute poll, 78% of residents support paid family leave legislation. Paid family leave gives parents an opportunity to pay their bills while they care for a sick child,” said Majority Leader Sweeney.
Workers seeking leave time would be required to provide their employers with prior notice of the need for leave time, along with a doctor’s note listing details of the need for the time off.
Beginning next January 1, employees would be required to contribute 0.14% of their earned wages to the State Disability Fund, which would then deposit the money into a fund reserved exclusively for the Family Leave program. In 2010, the percentage would increase to 0.18%, which equates to a maximum employee contribution of about $33 a year. For someone making minimum wage, the employee contribution would equal roughly 25 cents a week.
“The decision of having to work to make ends meet and spending precious time with a newborn child is one that far too many mothers and fathers have had to deal with over the years. By passing this legislation, we are ensuring that New Jersey puts the needs of families on a par with the needs of businesses,” said Senator Buono.
This legislation now heads to the Assembly for approval.
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