Paid Family Leave: Everything You Need to Know

Paid leave can be one key way families maintain financial stability through the first year of parenthood, a difficult medical diagnosis or when an ailing family member requires caregiving. Yet many Americans do not have access to paid leave or choose not to take unpaid leave for financial reasons.

“Some pre-pandemic research shows that one in four women were going to work within 10 to 14 days after giving birth,” says Adrienne Schweer, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “It’s awful that so many American children are being born into families where that is their beginning of life because it’s dangerous for their health and it’s dangerous for a mother’s health. But this is the reality.”

The U.S. is the only developed country without a national paid family leave policy and in 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates just 23% of private sector workers have access to paid family leave. That figure may soon rise as Congress works its way through a large spending bill that currently includes broad provisions for federal paid family and paid medical leave and as states enact and implement paid leave laws.

[Read: How Much Does It Cost to Raise a Child?]

Nine states plus Washington, D.C., have enacted paid leave policies over the last decade. California was the first state to do so, enacting a paid family leave policy in 2002, while some states enacted policies as recently as 2019 and 2020 that have not yet begun to pay benefits. In Colorado, for example, a paid family leave policy was enacted in 2020 and is set to begin paying benefits in January 2024.

Here are the states with a paid family leave policy:

State Status Maximum Length of Paid Leave Maximum Weekly Benefit
California First enacted 2002. Expanded in 2016, 2017 and 2019. Effective 2020.

Eight weeks family leave, 52 weeks for

own disability.

$1,357
Colorado Enacted 2020. Premiums effective January 2023, benefits effective January 2024. 12 weeks. $1,100
Connecticut Enacted 2019. Premiums effective 2021, benefits effective January 2022. 12 weeks. $1,100
District of Columbia Enacted 2017. Effective 2020. Eight weeks for parental leave, six weeks for family care, two weeks for own serious health condition. $1,000
Massachusetts Enacted 2018. Premiums effective 2019. Benefits effective 2021. 12 weeks for family leave, 20 weeks for own serious health condition. $850
New Jersey First enacted 2008. Expanded in 2019. Effective 2019 and 2020. 12 weeks family leave, 26 weeks for own disability. $903
New York Enacted 2016. Effective 2018. 12 weeks, 26 weeks for own disability. $971.61
Oregon Enacted 2019. Premiums effective January 2022, benefits effective January 2023. 12 weeks.

120% of the statewide average weekly wage (about $1,496.56)

Rhode Island Enacted 2013. Effective 2014. Four weeks for family leave, 30 weeks for own disability. $887
Washington Enacted 2017. Premiums effective 2019, benefits effective 2020. 12 weeks for family leave, 12 weeks for own serious health condition. $1,000

Many of state paid family leave policies cover a birth, adoption or fostering. Check with your state for eligibility details.

“In most of the programs, if you earned money during the last four or five quarters when you apply, you’re eligible, and your benefit is based on when you earned,” says Sherry Leiwant, co-president of A Better Balance. “We don’t have a final draft of what the federal program will look like, but in the Ways and Means draft, the state programs would be able to continue with some reimbursement from the federal government.”

In addition to state benefits, many employees can access paid family and medical leave through their employer. However, workers employed by small companies and low-income or minority workers more commonly don’t have this option. Instead, those lacking paid leave often turn to medical leave, which Schweer says is the most used type of leave in the U.S.

“It is a lot harder for a small business, especially one with three, five or seven employees to offer a meaningful paid family leave benefit than it is for a large corporation,” Schweer says. “If you’re in one of the nine states or Washington, D.C., you either have access through your state government or will soon. Outside of that, your employer may offer short-term disability to cover a medical event or maternity leave.”

[Read: 7 Ways to Prepare for an Unpaid Maternity Leave.]

Those who do have access to employer-provided paid family leave may have four weeks of paid leave or up to a year, depending on the company. Many new parents also cobble together other employer-provided benefits to extend that leave, says Kyle Wick, co-founder and private wealth advisor of 22 One Advisors, a Northwestern Mutual Private Client Group.

“Mothers typically receive four to 12 weeks of actual maternity leave. It’s important to strategize use of vacation days or PTO, as well,” he wrote in an email. “For fathers, paternity leave is becoming more and more common in companies today. Strategize with your spouse on how to use paternity leave. Depending on how much help you have from other family members, you may want to take some of it right away when the baby is born and you’re adjusting with your spouse.”

Workers anticipating a leave will be necessary in the coming months should take steps to know their options and prepare for costs, says Rebecca Palmer, a financial planner at Ellevest. This includes contacting your health insurance company and employer, as well as creating a budget that accounts for your family’s changing financial situation.

[Read: The Modern Guide to Parental Leave.]

“With children come financial changes, changes in income, expenses, desires. The first thing would be to make sure you are on top of your money management,” Palmer says. For new parents, she says, “As soon as you can, find out what options you do have. You want to make a plan for how much time you want to spend with the baby, what resources you will have and what the difference is you need to make up.”

Don’t wait, she says, to financially prepare.

“If you are due in a week or just found out you’re pregnant,” Palmer says, “today is the best day to make a plan.”

More from U.S. News

Why You Should Work Through Your Maternity Leave

Bill Would Boost Support After Miscarriage, Failed Adoption

How to Prepare for the Surprising Costs of Motherhood

Paid Family Leave: Everything You Need to Know originally appeared on usnews.com

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