New York Paid Family Leave Advances Equity for Working Women and Families Across the Empire State

New analysis shows how New York Paid Family Leave has been a lifeline for countless New Yorkers, particularly women and those in low-wage jobs.
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Last week the New York State Comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli issued an analysis of the New York Paid Family Leave program that showed how well the program is working and what a difference it is making in the lives of New Yorkers, especially low income New Yorkers.

In 2016, New York became the fourth state to enact a paid family leave (PFL) program providing paid time off for eligible employees caring for a family member with a serious health condition; bonding with a newborn or newly adopted or foster child; or assisting a family member deployed abroad on active military service. The program began providing benefits on Jan. 1, 2018; the maximum weeks of leave and percentages of weekly benefit payments were phased in over four years and reached 12 weeks and 67% of wages up to a cap by Jan. 1, 2021. 

The Comptroller’s analysis of 2021 data, the latest year for which PFL data was available from the state Department of Financial Services and the first year the program was fully phased in, showed that an estimated 88% of employees in the private sector in New York had access to paid family leave benefits, much higher than 23% of employees in the United States as a whole. The Comptroller’s analysis showed that PFL covered almost eight million workers with $872 million paid on approximately 156,000 claims in 2021.

An analysis of claims data from the first four years of the program shows:

  • Employees earning less than $40,000 per year accounted for the largest number of claims, with the number decreasing as income rises, suggesting paid family leave is a particularly important benefit to low-to moderate-income employees.
  • Participating insurers approved over 550,000 claims and paid over $2.2 billion in cash benefits to eligible employees.
  • Bonding with a newborn child generated over 80% of all payments and more than 70% of all claims.
  • Women filed and received about two-thirds of all program claims and payments.
  • Service employees – such as health care, education, information and legal services workers – accounted for nearly 45% of all claims by industry. (Service industry jobs are about 40% of jobs in the New York economy.)  

The PFL program in New York is funded by deductions from employees’ wages which cover the premiums for this social insurance program. For 2023, the deduction rate is 0.455 percent of employee wages per pay period, not to exceed an annual maximum employee contribution of $399.

As one of the leaders of the effort to pass PFL in New York, A Better Balance is extremely proud that the program is helping so many workers, especially low income workers who would probably be unable to take the time they need when a new child arrives or a seriously ill family member needs care without this income support. Critical to the program – and low wage New Yorkers’ ability to use it – is the fact that the leave is job protected so no worker needs to risk their livelihood to care for their family. In the wake of the victory for PFL in New York, there are now 12 states, including the District of Columbia, that have passed paid family and medical leave programs and we are hoping for more to come this year. 

The news out of New York on the success of this program should help support efforts in other states around the country to protect workers’ income and jobs when they need time off to care for a new child or seriously ill family member. And ultimately we hope to see a national program for all workers in the United States. Our country needs to make a commitment to working families that we will support them when they need time to care themselves and each other. ABB will continue to support efforts to make paid family and medical leave a reality for all workers. We are also working to strengthen and improve New York’s temporary disability insurance and PFL programs further so that workers have equal support when they need to care for their own medical needs as well as their family’s needs. And as the Comptroller’s report points out, it is essential that New York continue to build on this success by ensuring that employers are aware of their responsibilities and that workers are aware of the benefits of PFL and the employment and health insurance protections that come with the benefit.

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