U.S. Secretary of Labor and Western New York native Thomas Perez says it's only a matter of time until the federal government passes a paid family leave act. He says New York State, in the meantime, can be a leader in what supporters say will make families stronger without hurting individual workers and their employers.
Perez joined advocates and supporters of paid family leave in a Tuesday afternoon roundtable discussion in downtown Buffalo. He listened to stories from people detailing their personal struggles of trying to welcome a new child into the household without the benefit of extended paid time off.
New York State's proposed Paid Family Leave Act would allow individuals up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for newborns, elderly loved ones, or other family members in need of extended care. The program would be funded by optional payroll deductions.
"The advantage that New York State and California and Rhode Island have, that other states don't, is that they can build off an existing model of temporary disability insurance," Perez said. "They've had a system in place of temporary disability insurance for quite some time. The states that are leading right now have tended to build off of that model."
Supporters say the science and data demonstrate that allowing more time off to bond with a child ultimately improves that child's early emotional and intellectual development.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who was in attendance at the roundtable, spoke of how her boss, Governor Andrew Cuomo, regrets not having more family time off in the final weeks of his father's life. Families, she says, need the peace of mind that when time is needed to address long-term health or other concerns, people will still have some financial security.
"This gives them the assurance to know that the money will be there, that they can take this temporary time away from the job without being affected," Hochul said. "They can still continue to pay the rent, pay the mortgage, take care of their family needs. This is a real statement of New York values."