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Time for Governor Cuomo to Go Big on Paid Family Leave in New York State

Amy Traub

In the waning days of 2015, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced bold plans to extend paid parental leave to 20,000 municipal employees. The initiative will certainly aid city workers and their families, who will now have time to bond with a new child without giving up a paycheck. As I argued at the time, the mayor’s action could have far broader benefits—if it inspires more momentum for change at the state and national level.

Just two weeks later, that momentum is already building.  

According to the New York Post, Governor Andrew Cuomo is now considering a plan to extend 12 weeks of paid leave to all working New Yorkers statewide. The move is key because state law can go far beyond what New York City alone can accomplish. And the timing, building on the women’s equality agenda New York enacted last year, and the unanimous support for paid family leave by Democratic presidential candidates, is ideal.

Building a comprehensive paid leave system should form a core part of Governor Cuomo’s 2016 agenda—and like the other ambitious elements of that agenda, the governor should go big.

The need is great: just 12 percent of employees nationwide get paid leave through their employers. As a result, new parents too often return to work far sooner than is healthy for themselves or their children. New Yorkers caring for ailing loved ones too often lose jobs as they struggle to balance competing demands.

To fix the mess and make New York a progressive leader, Governor Cuomo should lend his weight to the powerful bill that has already passed the State Assembly numerous times and stalled in State Senate. The legislation builds on the state’s existing Temporary Disability Insurance system to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child, a seriously ill family member or to deal with needs related to a family member’s military service or deployment. Crucially, the legislation also raises dismally low disability benefit levels, so that employees on leave are paid 2/3 of their average weekly wage up to a capped amount. This will ensure that employees who qualify for leave can afford to take it.

The plan, based on models that are already working successfully in California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey, adds nothing to the state budget because it is funded by employees themselves through a small payroll deduction of 45 cents a week in the first year. Additional details are available in a brief from the Community Service Society of New York. If the governor aims to introduce his own new legislation, he must ensure that it is at least as strong as the bill already on the table.

In throwing his support behind the Fight for $15—first with wage board for fast food workers, then by raising wages for employees of New York’s state university system,  and now by pushing to make New York the first state in the nation to enact a $15 minimum wage for all workers—the governor acted decisively. He proposed incremental but ultimately far-reaching proposals that will greatly improve the well-being of working New Yorkers and their families. The same big vision and a sense of purpose is needed on paid family leave.

While the bitter rivalry between New York’s mayor and governor has been a poisonous distraction from the work of governing, we all might benefit from a competition to genuinely serve the needs of New Yorkers working too long for too little pay and too little time for family at even the most important moments in life.