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What paid family leave looks like in the three states that offer it


President Obama speaks during the White House Summit on Working Families on June 23. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

California, New Jersey and Rhode Island are the only states that offer paid family and medical leave to workers, a policy that is getting a high-profile boost this week from President Obama.

The White House hosted a summit on working families on Monday to raise awareness on issues such as child care, paid family leave and equal pay. In a speech, Obama called out the three states that offer paid family and medical leave as “states who are setting a good example.” Such issues have emerged as key to Democrats as they seek to shore up support among women and portray Republicans as unsympathetic on issues of concern to them. Allies of Hillary Rodham Clinton told The Post that the issue would be a key part of a potential 2016 presidential bid.

“Family leave, child care, workplace flexibility, a decent wage — these are not frills, they are basic needs,” Obama said Monday, according to prepared remarks. “They shouldn’t be bonuses. They should be part of our bottom line as a society.”

Part of his push includes a proposal to offer $5 million in funding to support state-level initiatives to offer leave to workers to care for new babies or ailing relatives, such as those already in place in the three states. (Washington state also passed a law, but it was never implemented. Also, there seems to be a state-level movement underway.) All three fund the benefit available to workers in the public and private sector through an employee-paid tax, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. As is often the case, such state laws can serve as models not only to others, but to the federal government as well. Here’s a look at what each state’s paid leave law offers:

California

California passed the nation’s first paid leave law in 2002, but the benefits didn’t kick in until the summer of 2004. Since then, just about 1.7 million claims have been filed, with 1.5 million of them from parents seeking to take time to care for new children, according to state data. Each worker can take up to six weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member. A worker gets about 55 percent of their weekly wage, with a minimum of $50 and maximum of $1,075.

Researchers last year found that the state’s law boosted weekly work hours and wages of mothers of children between the ages of 1 and 3.

New Jersey

The Garden State’s benefits went into effect in 2009 and give workers up to six weeks of coverage at two-thirds their pay to care for a sick family member or bond with a new child. The maximum weekly benefit is $595, according to NCSL.

A 2013 Rutgers University study found that four out of five people used the benefit to bond with new children, while one in five used it to care for a seriously ill family member. It also found the program enjoyed broad support, with more than three out of four respondents to an August 2012 poll viewing it favorably. Awareness of the program, however, appeared to be low, with more than half of respondents reporting not knowing much or anything about the program. Populations most in need were also those who knew the least about the program.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island became the third state to offer paid leave at the start of this year. Workers are eligible for up to four weeks of paid leave to care for a new child of sick family member. The benefit ranges from $72 to $752 per week based on earnings and applies to all private-sector employees and public employees who opt into the program, according to NCSL.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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