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Another Voice: Why paid family leave matters for New Yorkers

By Andrew M. Cuomo

2015 was a hard year for my family. My father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, had been ill for a while, and he passed away on Jan. 1 while I was in Buffalo for an inauguration ceremony marking the start of my second term. Those last weeks and months with him were precious, and they underscored the need to be with family during life’s most important moments.

I believe all people should be able to be with their loved ones when they are needed most. Yet for millions of New Yorkers, taking time off from work to care for an ailing relative or a new child can mean risking their most basic financial security. Especially for working-class families, taking unpaid leave means losing their income, decimating their savings and falling into a cycle of poverty where they have to rely on government assistance just to put food on the table and pay rent. That’s not the fairness and dignity and decency that our state represents.

This year, I’m fighting for a paid family leave policy that would support workers and their loved ones during the most challenging and important times in their lives. It’s a 12-week proposal that would be the strongest in the nation – offering a longer period of benefits than any other state and allowing employees to continue receiving the equivalent of up to 67 percent of their weekly wage, eventually capped at 67 percent of the state’s average weekly income. It would be paid for by collecting a small amount from employee paychecks – roughly 70 cents a week in the first year, and $1.40 by 2021 – so it would cost businesses nothing.

The special interests have criticized this proposal as being too long to offer support, which is illogical, given that 12 weeks is already the standard offering of unpaid leave for more than 60 percent of American workers, thanks to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Those same special interests also claim that this would hurt businesses – which has already been disproved. Five years after California enacted paid family leave, 92 percent of businesses polled said it had either a positive or neutral effect on their bottom line. Furthermore, the monetary benefits of paid family leave are covered by employee contributions – not an employer – so businesses would be able to repurpose the savings from a worker’s salary while he or she is on leave to cover overtime costs or hire temporary help.

I believe that if you work hard, you should be able to support your family and live with decency and respect. This proposal will make that a reality for millions of people who have been left behind and forced to choose between caring for their loved ones and paying their bills.

It’s time we restored fairness and dignity to working families and led the nation forward – it’s time we pass paid family leave in New York State.

Andrew M. Cuomo is governor of New York.