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States Pursuing Paid Leave, but Something Is Different

Family caregiving is no longer a personal issue—it is now a bipartisan public policy issue. We’ve been saying it since 2017, but if you’re still not convinced, we’d like to bring several states’ legislative agendas to your attention. In the 2020 legislative session, we have seen a notable upswing in paid leave proposals. Paid leave for employees has been an increasingly hot topic in the past few years at the federal and state level, but the activity we are now seeing in the states marks a real turning point in this debate.

Bills proposing to provide employees access to paid time off to care for loved ones are currently pending in seven state legislatures. (Vermont has already passed new paid leave legislation in 2020, but it was vetoed by the governor soon after.) And we at AARP are most excited about is the list of states showing interest in these and other types of workplace flexibility policies: so far this year, it’s Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland.

If paid leave is an issue you follow, you’ll notice that—in contrast to most of the existing states with paid leave programs—several of these states lean more conservatively. Even more remarkably, governors in Idaho, Tennessee, and West Virginia have also recently announced their intention to provide paid family leave to their state employees.

It may be that this is a strategic move to attract and retain state employees in a tight labor market as many state workers approach retirement. Regardless of the rationale, this is a clear sign that pressure is building to help employees continue to succeed at work, while also managing their caregiving responsibilities. And this is important. As we look ahead, we are faced with a rapidly aging society, rising healthcare costs, and a growing shortage of caregivers, both paid and unpaid. As a result, Americans will increasingly rely on a smaller pool of family and friends—many of whom are working other jobs—to care for them as they age.

And another sign of progress: new evidence is showing that these programs are in demand. New York State has seen the highest uptake rates in the nation for a paid leave program, after launching its program last year. New York made a major investment in publicizing the new benefit available to workers, and many claimed it, even at a wage replacement rate of less than 60%. It is clear that raising awareness of these programs is nearly as important as enacting them in the first place.

I hope you will join us in keeping an eye on the progress of this legislation and advocating to ensure family caregivers are eligible for its benefits. This may be a turning point for this issue and for millions of family caregivers and the people who depend on them.

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