Op-Ed

$2 a week is a bargain for the peace of mind paid leave will provide those who need it

As a mom with three special-needs kids who also has been a family caregiver, I know first hand how challenging it can be to take care of your loved ones when they need it most. And like many people my age, I am part of the sandwich generation of caregivers who find themselves needing to simultaneously care for their aging parents and their children.

This also means that I know just how important access to paid family and medical leave is to working families.

When my mother was dying, I had no access to paid family and medical leave and – quite frankly – not caring for her was not an option. With the cost of child care for my three children and the time I needed to take off to care for my mother, it didn’t make sense financially for me to work at a job that did not have the option to take paid family and medical leave. Fortunately, our family was able to make ends meet on my husband’s salary alone, but our savings for our children’s college funds and our own retirement suffered.

Later on when my father entered hospice, I was once again the primary caregiver. But there was one key difference: I had paid family and medical leave.

With access to paid family and medical leave, I had the peace of mind that I could put my family first when I needed to most.

Having a job that offers paid family and medical leave should be the rule, not the exception, and soon that will be true for workers across Washington. In 2017, Washington became the fifth state — after California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York — to pass paid family and medical leave into law.

Starting Jan. 1, employees and some employers will begin contributing to a statewide insurance pool to fund the state’s new Paid Family and Medical Leave program, which will begin paying out benefits on Jan. 1, 2020.

The average worker will contribute just over $2 per week from their paycheck, or about the price of a cup of coffee, and the program guarantees up to 16 weeks of combined paid family and medical leave each year, whether it’s for parents to bond with a new child after birth, adoption or foster placement; for someone caring for a seriously sick spouse, child, sibling, parent, grandchild or grandparent; or for someone recovering from their own serious medical condition.

With the program, families will no longer have to choose between putting food on the table and caring for their loved ones - and small businesses won’t have to carry the financial burden alone. In fact, businesses with fewer than 50 employees, which make up 96 percent of Washington businesses, can choose to contribute to the insurance pool or not - and their employees will still receive benefits through the Employment Security Department. Small businesses that do contribute are eligible to receive grants to help cover costs while an employee is on leave. When businesses offer paid leave, they retain employees for longer and save money they would otherwise have to spend on turnover costs.

No one should be forced to choose between caring for their family and providing for them. With paid family and medical leave for all, they won’t have to.

Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program is a huge step forward for our families, communities and economy. And I’m proud and grateful to live in a state at the forefront of policies that help workers, families, and our economy.

Adriana Hutchings is an Olympia resident, mother, and member of MomsRising.
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