EDITOR’S NOTE: As many dads know, we play an integral role in our children’s lives, especially when they are first born or, unfortunately, when they get sick. However, many dads in California do not know that they are entitled to paid family leave through California’s Paid Family Leave program—the first in the country. Recently, the program was expanded to cover 60-70% of salaries and so we asked the bill author, Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, to guest blog about this important resource. We hope that by educating dads about this critical resource, more will take advantage of it to support their families!
No family should ever have to choose between working to provide for their loved ones and taking time off to care f a newborn or an ill family member. But all too often hardworking people are forced to make this choice. I know this firsthand because when I was younger, this was a problem my family faced.
As a legislator, I’m fortunate to be able to take my life experiences and do something about them. I grew up without health insurance and one summer I became very sick with pneumonia. I ended up having to stay in the hospital for a few days and the medical bills nearly left my family bankrupt. Between lost wages from my parents’ time off work and the high cost of the medical bills, my illness had landed us in financial trouble.
When I got elected into office, it gave me the perfect chance to take this story and use as the motivation for my bill AB 908. I sat in my office and thought about how we could fix our Paid Family Leave program. And I’m proud to say my office put this bill together without any encouragement from outside groups or organizations.
As a society, we need to value our family time the way the rest of the world does. The United States is one of just three countries around the globe that doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave. When it comes to granting family leave, here in California, we lead the way.
In 2002, California became the first U.S. state to create the Paid Family Leave program, a family leave insurance program that provides income replacement to eligible workers for bonding with a new child or family caregiving.
Paid Family Leave is a lifeline for working families, but after more than 10 years of the program, we’ve learned that it’s out of reach and not affordable for thousands of Californians.
A comprehensive state review of the program proved this by noting which households have benefited. Interestingly, the number of Paid Family Leave claims has increased overall.
But a closer look shows that it is mainly the higher income employees who have benefited. The percentage of claims by those making over $72,000 has increased during the past 10 years, with nearly 20 percent of all claims coming from those making more than $84,000 a year. At the same time, claims filed by those making $24,000 or less have decreased.
So, although the program has helped millions of Californians, the structure of the previous PFL program was fundamentally inequitable. Workers already living paycheck to paycheck on 100 percent of their salary simply could not afford to use a program for six weeks that only covered half of their wages.
My bill fixes this inequity. AB 908 raises the current wage replacement rates to provide greater economic security and equity in our Paid Family Leave program. The bill addresses the program’s imbalances by increasing the wage replacement rate to 70 percent for those making minimum wage and 60 percent for most almost all other workers. Signed into law by Governor Brown in April 2016, AB 908 will take effect in January 2018. President Obama praised the bill in a statement that urged Congress to follow the example set by California.
According to the state review of the current program, “new fathers sometimes believe that PFL is only for new mothers.” This is a huge misconception that I aim to fix. We need to educate all Californians – mothers and fathers – about the PFL program and who is eligible. As a legislator, it is an ongoing goal for me to ensure that we not only increase the wage replacement rates and duration, but to also ensure we are educating the workforce and increasing awareness of the program.
The work to support and protect our families is far from over. But the passage of AB 908 is a huge win and a big step in the right direction. Once again, California is leading the way with the most progressive Paid Family Leave program in the nation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jimmy Gomez was first elected in November of 2012 and subsequently reelected in 2014 with over 83% of the vote to represent California’s 51st Assembly District, which includes Northeast Los Angeles and unincorporated East Los Angeles.
Assemblymember Gomez has proven to be a national champion on the issue of Paid Family Leave and a key figure in the California legislature by authoring landmark legislation to address public health, environmental justice, water conservation, access to education, civic engagement, campaign finance disclosure in the wake of Citizens United, domestic violence and sexual assault prevention, LGBT rights and affordable housing. In only his second term, Gomez served as Chair of the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Born and raised in Southern California, Assemblymember Gomez is the child of immigrant parents who moved to California from Mexico in the early 1970s. Often working multiple jobs just to make ends meet, his parents instilled in him a strong sense of family and work ethic.
Assemblymember Gomez lives in Eagle Rock with his wife Mary, and dog Austin.