Workers’ Voices: New Yorkers Share Why We Need A Strengthened Paid Family & Medical Leave Program

Every day, New Yorkers are forced to make impossible choices between their economic security, and caring for their own health or caregiving needs, due to the shortcomings of the state’s paid leave program. New York-based ABB Community Advocates are speaking out and sharing their stories to call for change.
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New York’s statewide paid family and medical leave program consists of two portions: Paid Family Leave, which we at A Better Balance helped to pass and enact in 2018, and Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI), which comprises the state’s paid medical leave program and has not been updated since 1989.

There is a glaring inequality between the benefits provided under the state’s Paid Family Leave program, and its paid medical leave program. It is unacceptable that, when taking time off work to care for one’s own health in New York, workers also do not have the right to job protection or guaranteed continuation of your health insurance, like those taking paid family leave do, and that the maximum benefits amount under the program is a mere $170 per week.

Meanwhile, there are other ways in which New York’s once-groundbreaking paid family leave program has fallen behind the national standard, including by limiting protections for freelance and self-employed workers, as well as a limited definition of family that excludes some workers from caring for their closest loved ones. 

We are fighting for the state legislature to pass S2821B/A4053B in the budget, which would provide New Yorkers with comprehensive paid medical leave, while also making key improvements to New York Paid Family Leave, bringing these laws up to the national standard. 

We must ensure the FY25 budget includes the strongest paid leave program possible, including swift implementation of the law so New Yorkers aren’t stuck waiting even longer for the benefits they deserve, progressive wage replacement so that the lowest paid workers receive a higher proportion of their wages, the ability to take leave intermittently instead of all at once, and the guarantee of job-protection and the continuation of one’s healthcare benefits. 

As part of the push to ensure these programs meet the needs of New York families, numerous ABB Community Advocates have spoken out and shared their experiences navigating the state’s twofold paid leave program to highlight the importance of these much-needed improvements. Below are stories from the New Yorkers calling for change.


Michelle, who worked in sales, reached out to us in 2021 several weeks after being diagnosed with COVID-19. She initially took one week off from her sales job in New York City and then returned to work as she was feeling better. However, after a few days, she started to experience setbacks in her recovery. It was becoming clear that she was experiencing long COVID symptoms. She quickly ran out of sick days, but was nowhere near well enough to return to work. Her employer told her that she could apply for New York Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) benefits, but she was shocked to find out that at a maximum of $170 per week, these benefits would not be nearly enough to cover her rent, let alone food, utilities, and other basic living expenses in New York City. 

Had now-expired federal pandemic benefits not been available at the time, Michelle would not have been able to survive on TDI benefits alone for the months she spent recovering from COVID-19. “I was shocked that the disability benefits are so low, and it pained me to think of all the poor souls who have had no better resources,” she told us. “How do you survive on those minimal amounts? I hope TDI benefit amounts increase, to save people from being in even worse situations while they go through an illness.”


Kolandro, who works in childcare, similarly struggled to make ends meet with a mere $170/week in benefits when she took eight weeks of leave under the TDI program after the birth of her second son in 2020.

“That was only $170 a week, not enough to support one child, let alone two small children,” she told us. “This resulted in me falling behind on rent, and I am currently in housing court trying to pay back everything from not being able to have sufficient income during my eight weeks of leave. Due to the fact that I had an emergency c-section, I was not ready to go back into the workforce. I believe that only $170 a week for eight weeks is not enough to support any family and I believe that New York, known as the greatest city, should be able to better support families through these transitions in their lives. Families should not have to worry whether they need to choose between getting food or paying bills. New York must extend the paid family leave and medical leave program to ensure workers and families can have the right access to the benefits they are entitled to and that those families can get the things that they need.” 


Melanie,* a pregnant social worker, told us that the lack of job protection ensured by New York’s TDI program created an impossible—and impossibly stressful—choice for her when she needed to take time off work due to her high-risk pregnancy. 

“If my benefits don’t protect my job, my boss is going to fire me,” she told us. “My pregnancy is high risk and I feel so sick. But I have to take care of my family, so I have to keep my job.”


Ruth*, a freelancer, was unable to take New York Paid Family Leave when she gave birth to her second child due to the waiting period for self-employed workers. 

“When I found out I was pregnant, I researched how NY PFL would apply to me as a freelancer, before realizing it was too late to do anything about it. Even if I had been making contributions all along, I had been working freelance for less than two years when my son was born, so would have been ineligible regardless,” she told us. 

Ruth*’s second child was born the day after her older child’s caretaker delivered her own baby, coincidentally. Ruth*’s caretaker was eligible for NY PFL because she had worked for them for several years, time which Ruth* was glad to give her. 

“NY PFL benefits created a major financial relief for us and allowed us to give her even more than 12 weeks to recover from a challenging delivery and spend time with her family. That relief was especially critical because I, as a self-employed worker, was ineligible for paid leave myself,” said Ruth. “I am privileged to have a supportive spouse and a financial safety net, which gave me the ability to take unpaid time away from work. Many others in a similar situation would not have been able to take that precious time off work. No one should have to make those choices, regardless of their source of income.”


When Shimoya, who works in healthcare, gave birth to her second child in March 2022, she used up all of her paid sick time in the two weeks prior to giving birth when her legs started getting swollen and she was too exhausted to work. She took Temporary Disability Insurance after giving birth, and confusion between her employer and her insurance provider meant her payments took weeks to process.

“I remember looking at my newborn with tears in my eyes because I felt like I was put in a position to bond with my baby versus pay bills. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between bonding with their newborn versus working to pay the bills,” she told us. “Only $170 a week can barely cover an essential household expense such as rent, utility and food. All these processes and delays, I shouldn’t have to endure when all I should have been doing is healing and bonding with my baby.”


Sophie* works full time as an independent contractor and is currently pregnant with her first child. She was shocked to learn that she wasn’t automatically eligible for New York paid family leave. When she went through the tedious and confusing process of attempting to purchase her own policy, she learned that she was subject to a two-year waiting period before she would be able to actually use this policy and receive benefits. 

“This news was devastating to me in a state that supposedly guarantees twelve weeks of parental leave to all employed individuals,” she told us. “At the onset of my pregnancy, I envisioned myself having the opportunity to bond with my newborn for twelve weeks before returning to full time work. Instead, I have spent the past few months feeling worried and stressed about needing to take unpaid time off from my job in order to care for my baby. For many people this is an incredibly challenging decision to make due needing to sacrifice their family income. To have to wait two full years to qualify for paid family leave is very tough for my family and many families like mine.”

Every day, New Yorkers are forced to make impossible choices between their economic security, and caring for their own health or caregiving needs, due to the shortcomings of the state’s paid leave program. But we have a clear path forward: the legislature must modernize our paid family and medical leave program in this year’s budget and bring our system up to par with other states’, cementing New York as a leader once again.

 (*name changed to protect anonymity)

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