Paid Family Leave Remains Murky

We were surprised to see an Associated Press report earlier this week that stated paid family leave was included in the state Senate’s one-house budget.

A more careful reading of the Senate’s budget, however, shows paid family leave is far from actually approved in the Senate. Senators approved of the paid family leave concept, but added the “program must also respect the needs of employers, particularly small employers, to continue operations. The Senate will ensure that any proposal enacted will have a benefit level and duration to achieve the program goals, while addressing the needs of businesses, including but not limited to: consideration of impacts on the temporary disability insurance market, the length of time an employee must be employed in order to qualify for such a benefit, the interplay between this proposal and paid leave which may be offered and the Federal Family Medical Leave Act, the sustainability of the proposed benefit, including what an appropriate phase-in should be, and whether the funding mechanism is adequate to ensure no direct state budgetary impact.”

We’re not sure how those questions are answered in the next two weeks. Cuomo’s office continues to respond to criticism by saying the plan won’t cost business anything – which common sense says is simply not true, especially for small businesses. We note, too, the bills being discussed in the Assembly and Senate that say the initial costs to employees in the program start at 45 cents a week before coming under the auspices of the state Financial Services superintendent and an actuarially sound estimation of the cost per employee to provide benefits. It sounds an awfully lot like the state-funded pension system that wreaked havoc on municipal budgets for several years starting in the early 2000s. Benefits, according to legislation approved by the state Assembly and being discussed in the Senate, would be capped at 150 percent of such an actuarial estimation of the cost per employee. That certainly doesn’t sound like a straight 45 or 70 cents per employee and strikingly similar to the alarming numbers discussed a few weeks ago by state Assemblyman Andrew Goodell.

Goodell’s analysis has been attacked by the governor’s office, which says the Assemblyman’s figure of $27.35 a week is calculated incorrectly and wouldn’t be the experience in New York, which would operate its paid family leave system differently than California, upon which Goodell based his comparison. The governor’s office says the proposal would cost 70 cents per week for employees and $36.40 a year. Perhaps, before the Senate signs off on this proposal, it should investigate which of those numbers, Goodell’s or those bandied about by the rest of the state Assembly, is more likely to be true.

New York’s workers – and the businesses that employ them – should know that before paid family leave is approved, not after.