By Annie Garrett (Estimated reading time: 4 minutes)
How do you create an uproar among parents and caregivers in Washington State all at once? Threaten our paid family leave. Last fall, Washington State’s Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) made local and national headlines when it was projected to hit an 8.7 million dollar deficit by year-end. Enter the outroar. It didn’t take long for the state’s Employment Security Department to raise the premium rate by 0.2%, solving the problem for the short term. But the long-term solvency of the program remains unsettled. Here, a real-time update on what’s going on with PFML in the 2023 state legislative session, what this means for families, and where PEPS stands on this (plus how you can stand up for PFML, too).
A Primer on PFML
In short, Washington State’s PFML program provides a minimum of 12 weeks of paid leave for qualifying employees to care for family members during specific events, including the birth or adoption of a child. Leave amounts vary according to earnings, maxing out at 90% of an employee’s paycheck up to $1427 per week. Visit the Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave website for all the nuts and bolts. Anyone and everyone who works at an organization with 50+ employees pays into PFML, with employees paying 72.76% and employers paying 27.24% of the premium. Premium contributions are deducted as a small percentage (.08% in 2023, up from .06% in 2022) of each paycheck.
How Washington Compares
While most of our country’s peer nations have had paid leave for much of modern history, the US still lacks a federal paid leave policy, despite widespread bipartisan support. This leaves it up to states to design and fund their own. Washington is one of just 13 states nationwide to enact its own program. Less than four years in, we are both a leader and a toddler all at once in this landscape. The tension we are experiencing in terms of solvency and usability is evidence of ongoing growing pains.
Washington’s policy has been called “Best in Nation”, with the second highest maximum weekly benefit nationwide. For a side-by-side comparison, check out the chart showing paid family leave laws by state.
PEPS and PFML
PEPS has been following PFML from the time it launched in 2019 and advocacy is part of their five-year strategic direction. In consultation with key stakeholders and the PEPS community, PEPS has outlined three policy priorities for 2023, with protecting PFML topping the list. The goal of the bill proposal: stabilize the program by passing a bill to adjust premium rates and create a benefit reserve. While engaging in advocacy is still new for the organization, PEPS is listening and learning in multiple statewide advocacy coalitions. Their commitment to protecting paid leave is consistent with their commitment to equity, given that lower-wage workers are significantly less likely to have access to paid leave on a national level.
The Update: PFML and the 2023 Legislative Session
Good news! State Bill 5286, which seeks to stabilize PFML financially, passed through the Senate on February 1 with unanimous support. As of February 14, the bill is awaiting action in the House. Bipartisan support for the bill abounds; signs are good. A real-time update and the bill can be found on the Washington State Legislature’s Bill-Status-At-A-Glance.
Persistence Pays: Show your Support for Paid Leave
Does the unanimous bipartisan support suggest that Washington parents and allies can now hush the roar? Although paid leave got a shout-out in President Biden’s recent State of the Union address, materially speaking, it’s nothing more than a shout-out at present. Our status as one of just 13 states to enact a policy, paired with our ongoing growing pains and our knowledge that paid leave is less accessible to lower-wage workers, are all evidence that we must remain vigilant.
Paid leave is not yet durable, nor is it entirely equitable. Stay up-to-date by subscribing to receive email updates on PEPS advocacy progress and action, join their conversations on Facebook and Instagram, and reach out to your representatives today via MomsRising. What’s good for families is what’s good for all of us.