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The Country's Most Sweeping Paid Family Leave Policy Just Became Law

The policy also guarantees leave for workers who need to care for a relative with an illness, and allows residents to define family for themselves.

The policy also guarantees leave for workers who need to care for a relative with an illness, and allows residents to define family for themselves. Shutterstock

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Oregon's policy, signed by Gov. Kate Brown Friday, guarantees 12 paid weeks of leave, extends benefits to non-traditional family members and guarantees wages for low-income workers, among other things.

Oregon now has the country’s most generous paid family leave policy, with Gov. Kate Brown on Friday signing a sweeping bill into law. 

"Oregon families no longer need to make the difficult choice between paying the rent and staying home with their newborn, or between chemotherapy and keeping food on the table," Brown said in a statement. "It's absurd that our society values someone clocking in and out of their job above holding a loved one's hand—and that will change under HB 2005, where all families who need and care for each other will be recognized." 

The law guarantees 12 weeks of paid leave for new parents (biological, foster or adoptive), people caring for sick relatives or those recovering from illness. Benefits will start being paid in 2023.

The policy includes extended and non-traditional family members, including stepchildren, grandchildren, the child of a spouse or domestic partner, a sibling or step-sibling, and “any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with a covered individual is the equivalent of a family relationship.”

That provision was particularly important for Asian and Pacific Islanders, two of Oregon’s fastest-growing ethnic groups which traditionally live in multi-generational households.

“One in three Asian or Pacific Islander households in the U.S. is intergenerational, and our members care for their children, grandparents, extended family, and cousins,” Ava Kamb, a field organizer for the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, said in testimony to the House Committee on Rules. “Policies that narrowly define family exclude our communities from laws, programs, and benefits, which is why an inclusive family definition for paid family and medical leave is an important step to ensure that all of our families are able to access this critical insurance program.”

The program also offers paid “safe leave” to workers who either are themselves survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, or who have dependents who fit that description. Finally, it ensures 100 percent of wages for low-income workers, capping weekly benefits around $1,200. Part-time employees are eligible, provided they earn at least $1,000 per year.

Funding will come from a small payroll tax, which legislators said will not exceed 1 percent. Both employees and employers will pay the tax, although small businesses are exempt. 

The bill passed the legislature with bipartisan support. With Brown’s signature, Oregon joins seven states and the District of Columbia in offering paid family leave to workers, including Connecticut, which passed its law in June. Americans generally favor the practice, but just 14 percent of civilian workers had access to paid family leave in 2016, according to analysis from the Pew Research Center.

One business owner who spoke against the bill during the legislative hearing process said that existing laws already addressed family leave and that training temporary employees to cover for absent workers was damaging to productivity. But others praised the policy, saying it would allow Oregon residents the freedom to fight illness or care for loved ones without having to worry about being able to return to their jobs.

“I can afford to take time off, so can my husband and so can our friends and family who have been essential in helping us the past few months,” wrote Jennifer Schuberth, a Portland resident who was diagnosed with breast cancer in January. “So for all those women fighting off nausea, adjusting their scarves and wigs, doing their jobs and taking care of their families, I’m writing to request that you please vote to pass the HB2005.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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