POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Prieto champions working families with new legislation

By Michael Hill
Correspondent

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, who is seeking re-election, says there’s no extra cost to expanding paid family leave in New Jersey, a state that blazed the paid leave trail nearly a decade ago.

“We have actually lagged behind other states now,” he said.

Lagged in use, lagged in improving the law. So, Prieto, with several advocates, announced a bill that would increase paid leave to care for a family member from six weeks to 12 and raise the weekly cap by nearly $300 to $932 in some cases.

“It will be a meaningful amount for people to be able to take advantage of it,” Prieto said.

The speaker’s bill would also expand the eligibility to include more relatives and victims of domestic or sexual abuse.

New Jersey Citizen Action says the changes are overdue because the program has fallen short of helping low and middle income families.

“Even though it’s helped almost 200,000 people since 2009, many people in our state were left behind by the program,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, director of organizing and strategic program development for NJ Citizen Action.

The AFL-CIO says the bill gives elected leaders an opportunity to do more than just talk about family values and it cites census data showing that 92 percent of businesses with fewer than 50 employees in New Jersey don’t protect jobs of those who take paid family leave, even though the money paid to the employees comes from a fund and not the employer.

“That is desperately flawed and that needs to be corrected and that’s something that the speaker is doing here today,” said NJ AFL-CIO Legislative Affairs Coordinator Eric Richard.

The AARP says the 65+ population will double soon and workers will need to time to care for them.

“AARP is pleased that this legislation will update the law’s definition of family,” Stephanie Hunsinger, state director for AARP NJ, said.

Supporters of expanding paid family leave in New Jersey say what workers put in is a small amount every year, just some $26 for the average worker. But more than half the fund goes untapped.

“For low-income working families who already struggle to get by in high-cost New Jersey, losing a third of your take home pay is often out of the question,” said Jon Whiten, vice president of NJ Policy Perspective.

In a statement, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association says it welcomes the opportunity to discuss the bill with the speaker and, “while it is important that employees have the flexibility to take leave for family reasons, potential expansion of the current law must always take into account our members’ ability to perform vital functions with fewer staff and also the potential additional costs involved for those business owners who may now just be operating at the margins.”