Advocates and critics await Christie’s decision on Paid Family Leave reform bill

A bill is sitting on Gov. Christie’s desk that would enhance coverage of New Jersey’s Paid Family Leave law.

By Brenda Flanagan

“She wasn’t able to walk or take care of her two teenage children,” said LaShaunda Carter.

Carter shared her family’s heartache: younger sister Takeea suffers from debilitating lupus attacks, but LaShaunda can’t take time off from work to help care for her. New Jersey’s current Paid Family Leave Law doesn’t include sisters.

“If we were in a position to be able to take the leave to be able to help her that would be tremendous. Sometimes that’s all you have is those siblings as a family unit, that needs to be there for one another,” Carter said.

“No one should have to choose between taking care of a loved one when they need us most, or going to work to make ends meet,” New Jersey Citizen Action Associate Director Dena Mottola Jaborska said.

That’s why a group of advocates called the NJ Time to Care Coalition today called on Gov. Christie to sign NJ A4927 — a bill that would enhance coverage of New Jersey’s Paid Family Leave Insurance Law. Currently, the insurance covers children, spouses or partners and parents, but the bill would also make siblings, grandparents and grandchildren and in-laws eligible. It would double the paid time off allowed from six to 12 weeks, and it would increase weekly benefits from almost 67 percent of wages — capped at $633 — up to 90 percent of weekly wages — capped at $932. Allison Peltzman says she wanted extra time with baby Beatrice.

“My body was still healing and I felt I needed more time to learn how to become the mother of a newborn,” Peltzman, ACLU-NJ communications director said.

The boost in wage benefits means more workers would be able to afford family leave. Jessie Burns says the current benefits just don’t pay enough and her family is hurting as a result.

“No one should be forced to choose between caring for their dying mother, or bonding with their newborn daughter, but because of a low wage replacement and limited time allotted under the current Family Leave Program, that is exactly the decision my husband had to make,” said Burns, who is executive director of the League of Women Voters of NJ.

New Jersey’s one of four states that offer Paid Family Leave — the others are New York, Rhode Island and California. Advocates walked a letter over to Gov. Christie’s office asking him to sign this bill. If he does, it would make Jersey’s law the most comprehensive.

New Jersey’s law is paid for by an annual statewide payroll tax of $33.50 per employee, and it affects business with more than 50 workers. The bill would lower that threshold to firms with 20 or more staffers. But opponents say, New Jersey’s bill makes it tough for large companies that operate nationwide.

“They’re just adding to the patchwork and it’s making it more difficult where employers are constantly having to go back and figure out what state is offering what and how can we provide one definition that satisfies all of the definitions across the country,” Will Hansen from The ERISA Industry Committee said.

But for small business owners like James Parker, who is president and CEO of Riverview Studios, it levels the playing field.

“It enables me to offer these benefits to my employees that I care about and not have to bear that cost,” Parker said.

For Carter, it’s a family matter.

“To not be able to help my sister first is disheartening, it hurts me. It makes me feel like I’m not there,” Carter said.

The Governor’s Office had no comment.

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