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Jackson Bill to Strengthen Paid Family Leave Program Heads to Governor

A bill by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, to strengthen California’s Paid Family Leave Program by allowing workers to receive benefits while caring for seriously ill grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and in-laws passed off the Senate floor Friday and is now headed to Gov. Jerry Brown for approval. The vote was 25-11.

In 2002, California became the first state in the nation to enact a comprehensive Paid Family Leave Program to provide partial pay to workers taking time off to care for seriously ill family members or to bond with a new child.

Funded entirely by employee payroll deductions through an expansion of the State Disability Insurance (SDI) system, Paid Family Leave provides up to six weeks of partial wage replacement benefits per year.

However, current law only covers leave to care for a parent, child, spouse,or registered domestic partner. In other words, employees may not receive benefits to care for an ill sibling, grandparent, grandchild or parent-in-law.

Senate Bill 770 would expand the definition of family to more accurately reflect the caregiving responsibilities of California families. California has the second-highest percentage of multi-generational households in the country.

“Expanding this program will result in no additional costs to employees or employers and will help ensure that no worker has to make the terrible choice between putting food on their table and caring for a seriously ill grandmother,” Jackson said.

Sharon Terman, senior staff attorney at Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, said, "Paid Family Leave is a lifeline for workers and their families. But the law's narrow definition of family excludes those who need to care for a sibling, grandparent, grandchild or parent-in-law.”

In a recent study of caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients, over 40 percent of caregivers were not covered under the narrow definition of family in California’s Paid Family Leave law. Another study found that nearly 20 percent of primary caregivers for chronically disabled individuals are neither the spouse nor the child of the person receiving care.

According to a Senate Office of Research study, the Employment Development Department rejects about 10 percent of Paid Family Leave claims because the employee sought leave to care for an excluded family member.

A 2011 study found that the vast majority of employers reported that Paid Family Leave had either no noticeable or a positive effect on their business productivity, profitability and employee morale.

Jackson represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.

— Lisa Gardiner is the communications director for state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.

 

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