Last week, New York passed the most generous paid family leave policy in the United States. The new bill is so generous, so glorious, that it will surely inspire hope in residents of other states that their governments might implement something similar. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen.
This isn’t because of party politics or a lack of support, though certainly there’s some of that, too. It’s because of differences in infrastructure from state to state. “Other states are looking to expand their paid leave coverage, but it’s going to be tricky,” said Jeffrey Hayes, program director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “They’ve got their work cut out for them.”
Currently all of the states that have paid leave—which includes California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and now New York—run or will run the benefit through their temporary disability insurance programs. (Pregnancy qualifies for disability payments thanks to the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act.) This gives them an already-built infrastructure for collecting funds, often done through a payroll tax on employees and/or employers, and for gathering and confirming data. Hawaii is the only other state with temporary disability insurance in place, which means other states will have to come up with a different way to facilitate their leave programs, should they wish to start them. This might mean running it through already existing programs, or coming up with an entirely new structure.
“There are a lot of questions to ask when you are setting this up,” Hayes said. “How do you pick what agency will run it? How do you decide who will pay for it? How much should you incorporate private markets? Who is gathering the data and verifying eligibility?”
Washington passed a paid leave bill back in 2007 but has yet to implement it because they haven’t managed to answer these questions. Similarly, Washington D.C.—where there is a lot of support for paid leave—is trying to figure out who will pay for it and how. In February, Mayor Muriel E. Boswer told city residents that cost estimates for the program are “all over the place.” Last year, Connecticut allocated $140,000 to looking into how to implement a program, after their paid leave bill failed to pass. The bill was recently reintroduced and is gaining traction, though there continue to be questions and debate about how it will be funded.
Hayes says he believes states will have the most success if they come up with a new, paid leave-specific program instead of trying to incorporate the benefit into a pre-existing one. “Considering what we managed to built in the 1940s and considering how well it worked,” he pointed out, “it surprises me that people think that it would be that hard to build something new today in the computer age.”