Though the federal government does not require private employers to offer paid family leave — the Family and Medical Leave Act allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually — some states, including Maine and Minnesota in 2023, have enacted legislation to create mandatory family leave insurance programs to provide money for caregivers and new parents.
On Sept. 3, 2023, Oregon’s paid family leave law, which includes caregivers, new parents and victims of domestic violence, began. More than 10,000 people had applied as of Sept. 5, but only a little more than 15 percent had been approved, mostly because applicants had not furnished all of the documents required, program director Karen Madden Humelbaugh told the Portland Tribune.
“We do not know for sure how many benefit applications we are going to receive, what type of individuals will apply in the coming months, whether they are high- or low-wage earners, and how long they are going to apply to take benefits,” she said. Paid Leave Oregon expects more than 68,000 people to apply by the end of 2023.
Three years ago, about 48 million people in the United States provided unpaid care to older or disabled adults. On average, they devoted nearly 24 hours a week to caregiving.
When the next Caregiving in the U.S. study from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving in about two years, the numbers may go up because of the increasing number of older Americans. From 2015 to 2021, the population of adults 65 and older increased by more than 17 percent, according to the Census Bureau. The amount of time caregivers spent on days they looked after their loved ones averaged nearly five hours in 2020 and 2021, a 68 percent increase from 2015-16, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) American Time Use Survey shows.
Such numbers have pushed state and federal lawmakers to take a new look at providing paid leave for caregiving and other family responsibilities. Less than a quarter of U.S. workers had access to employer-provided paid family leave in 2021, the BLS says.
Action in state legislatures
AARP has long advocated for a national policy on paid family and medical leave.
“Anyone can end up needing to care for someone,” Nancy LeaMond, chief advocacy and engagement officer for AARP, wrote in a September 2021 blog post. “We need to empower everyone to take care of their loved ones without losing pay.”
Keep in mind
- Some states require employees to give advance notice, typically 30 days, before taking paid family leave although exceptions may be granted for unforeseeable circumstances. Check with your human resources department about notice policies.
- Taxes often are not deducted from the amount you receive for paid family leave, and the income is taxable.
Three of every 5 caregivers balance work with their responsibilities, she said. And 65,700 people join the ranks of family caregivers every day.
Maine’s “new law will support family caregivers who work to better balance their job and family responsibilities, reducing their stress and allowing them to better care for their loved ones,” said Noël Bonam, AARP state director for Maine, where 166,000 unpaid family caregivers live. AARP’s “Valuing the Invaluable” report update, released this year, also tallied 530,000 family caregivers in Minnesota as of 2021.
President Joe Biden’s proposed Build Back Better Act included provisions to establish such a program nationwide, but it stalled in Congress. In his 2023 State of the Union address, Biden reinforced his commitment to the issue: “Let’s make sure working parents can afford to raise a family with sick days, paid family and medical leave.”
He issued a presidential memorandum in February pledging to work with states to expand access to paid family leave for their workers.
16 states have enacted a program
As of September 2023, only eight states and the District of Columbia had government-mandated family leave insurance programs in effect. Five other states have enacted similar measures that will take effect in 2024, 2025 and 2026.
An additional three states have established voluntary family leave programs in which employers can choose whether they want to participate.
Payroll taxes cover the cost of this insurance with contributions drawn from employees, employers or both. All state programs enacted to date provide paid time off to care for a family member with a serious health condition or to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child.
Some programs cover paid leave for workers coping with their own illness; certain situations arising from a family member’s military deployment; or domestic violence, harassment or sexual assault.
The amount of time off, and which family members you can take leave to care for, varies from state to state. Where a program covers care for parents, grandparents, children and siblings, it generally includes step, in-law, adoptive and legal relationships. Some states exempt very small companies, certain types of employers such as tribal entities or religious organizations, or those with their own state-approved family leave programs. Click the links for details on each state’s policies.
Effective date: In effect
Maximum benefit: $1,620 a week
How it works: California was the first state to enact paid family leave, launching its program in 2004. Employees can receive 60 percent to 70 percent of their weekly earnings, up to the maximum benefit for up to eight weeks within any 12-month period, to care for an ill spouse, registered domestic partner, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild or sibling.
Effective date: Benefits begin Jan. 1, 2024. Employer and employee contributions to finance the program began Jan. 1, 2023.
Maximum benefit: $1,100 a week in 2024; 90 percent of the state’s average weekly wage thereafter.
How it works: Approved by voters in a 2020 ballot measure, Colorado’s program gives employees up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period to care for a seriously ill family member, defined as a spouse, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, sibling or other individual with whom the worker “has a significant personal bond that is or is like a family relationship.”
The benefit calculation is 90 percent of a worker’s pay up to half the state average weekly wage, and 50 percent of any earnings beyond that.
Effective date: In effect
Maximum benefit: $900 a week.