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Washington State Receives Grant To Analyze Unimplemented Paid Family Leave Law

Ted S. Warren
The Legislative Building at the Washington state Capitol in Olympia, Wash.

A Washington State Representative who has been trying to make paid family leave available to all workers says a new federal grant will be a big help. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded $247,000 to Washington state to research how paid family leave might be implemented.

"As the population ages, we all need time to care for elderly parents on one end and young children on the other end,” said Democratic Representative June Robinson. “This is an issue that I think is really overdue for the workers of our state."

In 2007, the Washington Legislature approved a state-run paid family leave program, but it has never taken effect due to lack of funding. Earlier this year, Robinson proposed a small, new payroll tax to support a benefits fund. It did not get very far in the legislature. Under her proposal, workers would have qualified for 12 weeks of paid time off (up to $1,000 per week) to care for a newborn or a seriously ill family member.

At present, American workers are entitled to unpaid maternity or paternity leave or to care for a very sick family member. However, the Labor Department says many workers don't take that leave now because they can not afford to go without a paycheck. Some Northwest companies voluntarily provide paid family leave as a worker benefit to attract and retain good employees.

Washington and California were among eight states and counties awarded federal grant money this week for research and implementation of paid family leave. Montana received a similar grant last year. California launched paid family leave statewide more than a decade ago, so its grant is meant to study the "economic and social impact" of the worker benefit.

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.