Aug 15, 2023 - Business

Oregon opens applications for new paid family leave program

Illustration of a stroller with money inside of it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Oregon's new paid family leave program opened for applications Monday, following four years of preparation — disrupted by COVID — after the Legislature authorized it in 2019 with bipartisan support.

Why it matters: Lack of paid family leave often forces workers to choose between paying the bills and caring for a loved one.

State of play: The program allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a new child, a seriously ill family member or their own health or personal safety. It will cover the entire paycheck of a minimum wage worker and scales down as income climbs.

How it works: Both employees and employers have been paying into the Paid Leave Oregon fund since the beginning of this year. Sept. 3 is the earliest that benefits can start.

  • Companies with more than 25 employees contribute 0.4% of Oregon payroll, while employees contribute 0.6% of their paychecks. (On a salary of $70,000 a year, roughly Oregon's median household income, that's about $420.)
  • Independent contractors, self-employed people and tribal governments can choose to participate. People working for the federal government in Oregon aren't eligible.
  • You need to notify your employer 30 days in advance for planned leave and within 24 hours of an emergency. To apply for benefits, go here.

What they're saying: "I know this is going to level the playing field for lower-income and middle-income workers in Oregon, especially folks in specific industries where they've had no paid leave," Karen Madden Humelbaugh, Paid Leave Oregon director, told Axios.

  • She also argues it's good for employers because trained workers won't have to quit when family needs come up.

By the numbers: Payroll contributions are expected to raise just over $800 million a year. Humelbaugh anticipates 12,000 people a month will apply for benefits, after an initial pent-up bump by families that welcomed new children in the past year — the allowed period for a child bonding claim.

  • Weekly benefits will run from $540 to $1,523.63, depending on an employee's regular wage.

Of note: Over 3,000 Oregon employers don't have to participate because they already offer paid family leave.

  • Such private plans must offer the exact same benefits and can't charge employees more than the state plan.

Context: Paid family leave joins a suite of other types of leave in Oregon, including state-required paid sick time and state and federally mandated unpaid family leave.

  • Earlier this year, lawmakers aligned Oregon's programs so that workers can't take more than 16 weeks of combined leave a year — 18 in certain pregnancy-related complications — for the same underlying situation.

What we're watching: Washington started a similar program in 2020 and had to bump up payroll contributions this year after projections showed it would otherwise face a deficit.

  • Oregon's program started with a higher overall payroll contribution and can only change that through legislative action, according to Humelbaugh.

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