New York’s paid family leave deal is great for state, but rest of U.S. must crowdfund costs

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For one state, the nation’s dismal maternity leave policies just got a lot better: On Thursday, the New York state legislature announced a deal mandating employees receive 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a new child or sick family member.

The paid leave will be ushered in gradually starting in 2018: That year, workers will be offered eight weeks of paid leave at 50 percent of their average pay. The mandated leave will reach 12 weeks by 2021, and will be capped at about $848 per week. The leave applies to workers regardless of gender; two parents (or caretakers) of any sex could feasibly trade off leave periods.

“This program will be funded entirely through a nominal payroll deduction on employees so it costs businesses—both big and small—nothing,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo upon announcing the budget deal Thursday, which also included raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour.

New York joins just four other states in the U.S. that offer paid family leave: Rhode Island, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California all passed similar laws between 2002–2014. In the other 46 states, there is no paid leave for mothers giving birth, fathers caring for children, or family members taking care of sick or dying loved ones.

Despite the existence of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which mandates unpaid leave for some employees that fall within a stringent set of classifications, the majority of U.S. workers have no realistic option for family leave. The U.S. lags behind nearly every country in the world—including almost all African, Middle Eastern, and South American nations—all of which offer extensive paid leave in addition to extra unpaid leave options.

That’s why, here in America, many have no other option but to set up a crowdfunding page to cover their lost wages when caring for a newborn or loved one, and hope for the best.

No, this is not an April Fool’s Day joke. Thousands of parents-to-be are crowdfunding their family leave on websites like GoFundMe and YouCaring because they have to choose between having a baby and getting their paycheck.

On GoFundMe alone, there were 1,373 fundraisers for maternity leave on Friday. Many of those were titled ‘unpaid maternity leave’ in a nod to the absence of state-mandated coverage. On one fundraiser, the mom of a newly adopted baby claimed that her company purposefully deleted the 156 hours of paid time off she had carefully banked by never taking a sick day over a two-year period. Many of the fundraisers featured photos of male partners as well as pregnant women: One guy even set up a “wifes (sic) maternity leave fund” page to ask for help on behalf of his partner.

Many of the fundraisers across all of the sites that the Daily Dot examined had raised no money or very few dollars. Of the dozens of maternity leave pages on GiveForward, only one had raised more than $1,000.

Pregnant moms aren’t the only ones stuck fundraising online to care for loved ones. On GoFundMe, a search for the broader category “family leave” results in 28,753 pages. Many of the fundraisers in that category sought financial help to care for sick relatives as well as young children.

One Tennessee woman was so horrified to learn that her successful company offered no paid maternity leave, she created a campaign and a petition to raise awareness of the issue. Tara Bowlin’s #MoreforMothers campaign is currently petitioning Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to pass legislation enacting paid family leave—but Bowlin herself, currently nine months pregnant, will be just one of many new parents in the state struggling to make ends meet after the birth of a child. 

“My state, Tennessee, is really conservative, so it’s difficult to make a lot of headway with this type of legislation,” says Bowlin. “There aren’t many representatives that support what they see as a ‘liberal’ law…This problem needs to be addressed not only in my state but in the entire nation, and that’s what #MoreforMothers is all about.”

The passage of New York’s new family leave law makes it the best state in the country in which to have a baby. New Jersey and California each only offer six weeks of paid leave; Rhode Island offers four weeks; and Washington state hasn’t actually enacted its family leave despite passing the law nearly a decade ago, in 2007. Massachusetts and Connecticut are currently mulling over bills that would mandate 12 weeks of leave—but for now, New York is the only city in the U.S. that comes even close to keeping up with the rest of the planet.

 Illustration via Max Fleishman

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.