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Hochul touts paid leave expansion covering more workers

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(The Center Square) — Gov. Kathy Hochul is touting the state’s paid leave law with new data showing that New York workers have filed hundreds of thousands of claims over the past five years.

On Wednesday, Hochul announced a “record” 163,124 claims were filed in 2022 for New York’s paid family leave program, which allows covered workers to apply for up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year to bond with their children or care for a seriously ill family member. More than eight million workers are eligible for the program.

The data, which was posted on the state Department of Financial Services’ website, shows that the program’s overall utilization rate, number of men taking paid paternity leave every year, and the average length of time off have all increased every year during the first five years of the program, with more than 717,000 claims filed to date.

Hochul said the figures show New Yorkers are taking advantage of the expanded paid leave program with rising enrollment and record-high utilization, particularly among fathers.

“Our nation-leading paid family leave program is a testament to our efforts to make New York the most worker-friendly state in the nation, and I will continue working closely with the Legislature to enact the policies and programs that support strong families,” she said in a statement.

In 2016, New York approved its Paid Family Leave law, billed as one of the nation’s most generous paid leave programs. Those benefits were phased in over several years, providing up to eight weeks, 50% pay in 2018 when the law went into effect and reaching 12 weeks, 67% pay in 2021.

Two years ago, Hochul signed legislation expanding the law to include workers who needed time off to care for a seriously ill sibling.

In June, Hochul agreed with the Civil Service Employees Association and Public Employees Federation to offer up to 12 weeks of fully paid parental leave benefits to more than 80% of the state’s workforce for bonding with a newborn, fostered or adopted child.

Under the agreements, more than 140,000 unionized state employees have joined 10,000 unrepresented New York state employees who became eligible for the paid leave benefits following a policy update announced by Hochul in February.

The Hochul administration is negotiating with other public sector unions to extend paid leave benefits to other state workers through collective bargaining.

The Hochul administration says the number of claims paid has increased each year of the paid leave program, excluding a slight drop in 2020, which they attributed largely to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know that expanded paid family leave helps close the gender pay gap, and allows workers the time they deserve to care for their children and other family members,” New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said in a statement. “It is monumental that New Yorkers are taking advantage of this nation-leading program.”

At least 13 states have approved paid family and medical leave laws, according to a 2022 report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, which called the issue a “kitchen-table” concern for millions of working families.

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