POLITICS
07/01/2019 13:32 EDT | Updated 07/02/2019 09:17 EDT

Oregon Just Passed The Best Family Leave Law In The U.S.

The state’s benefits are extraordinary, particularly for low-wage workers.

Oregon just became the eighth state in the country to pass a paid family leave bill, giving 12 weeks of paid time off to new parents, victims of domestic violence and people who need to care of an ill family member or themselves. 

The state Senate passed the law Sunday night, 21-6, with four Republican senators joining the Democratic majority. The state House passed the bill on June 20.

Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed the bill into law on Monday afternoon.

“In 1991, as an advocate for the Women’s Rights Coalition, I first began working on Paid Family Leave,” she said in a statement. ”Now, we can finally tell parents that they no longer will have to worry about losing their pay when they are having a baby or need to care for a loved one.”

The news comes just a month after Connecticut passed similar legislation that was considered quite generous, offering low-wage workers up to 95% of their paychecks during 12 weeks off, capped at $900 a week.

But Oregon’s law goes further: The state will be the first to pay low-income workers 100% of their wages when they’re off, with weekly benefits capped at around $1,215.

“It’s the first law that reflects if you’re paid low-wages and literally living paycheck to paycheck, anything less than 100% is going to cause financial hardship,” said Vicki Shabo, a senior fellow who specializes in paid leave at the think tank New America.

Activists and advocates were singing the praises of Oregon’s law on Monday, touting it as the most inclusive in the country for a few reasons: The bar to get paid leave benefits is low. Nearly all workers in the state will have access to the benefit, including those who work part time. You just have to earn at least $1,000 in wages a year to qualify.

Oregon also guarantees that if you take time off from work, your job is guaranteed to be there for you when you return. Shockingly, not all of the other states with these laws offer that kind of protection.

Advocates are also excited about Oregon giving victims of domestic violence access to paid leave ― New Jersey only just amended its own paid leave law to start doing this, but no other state includes domestic violence victims in paid leave legislation.

It’s the first law that reflects if you’re paid low-wages and literally living paycheck to paycheck, anything less than 100% is going to cause financial hardship.Vicki Shabo, senior fellow at New America

Oregon also has an extremely inclusive definition of who counts as a family member, extending the definition beyond blood relatives. That provision is especially important to LGBTQ and disabled workers, said Shabo. “Families come in all shapes in sizes,” she said.

Workers won’t start receiving paid time off until 2023. The state needs to build the infrastructure to administer the benefit and start collecting a small payroll tax — no more than 1% — from employees and employers.

The news from Oregon is just the latest sign of the growing momentum behind paid parental leave in a country that’s woefully behind on providing this basic benefit. The U.S. is the only developed country in the world that does not guarantee paid time off to new mothers.

“There are so many things that are significant about this win,” said Ellen Bravo, co-director of Family Values@Work, a national network of local groups advocating for paid family and medical leave.

In just the past three years, the number of states that offer new parents and caregivers paid time off has tripled, if you include Washington, D.C., Bravo emphasized.

Bravo’s been working with her group on paid family and sick leave for the past 16 years. “It wasn’t on anybody’s radar then,” she said.

Paid leave is also seeing momentum at the federal level. All the Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination who are serving in Congress support the Family Act ― which would provide for paid time off for new parents and other caregivers.

This story has been updated with a statement from Gov. Kate Brown.