Sep 21, 2023 - News

Washington's paid family leave program could see more delays

Illustration of a stroller with a "help wanted" sign hanging from the push handle.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

State officials say they need to hire dozens of workers to avoid months-long delays in getting people paid family leave benefits.

What's happening: Since Washington launched its paid family and medical leave program in 2020, the state Employment Security Department has had trouble meeting its initial goal of processing applications in two weeks, the Washington State Standard reports.

  • The current lag time to process a paid family leave application is about five weeks.
  • But by June 2025, that delay could grow to four months, unless the Legislature approves hiring 49 more workers to handle rising caseloads, the ESD wrote in a recent budget request.

Catch up quick: The state's paid family leave program is often used by new parents seeking time to bond with their child or recover from childbirth, offering 12 to 16 weeks of paid benefits.

  • It also can be used by others who need time off for medical reasons.
  • From July 2022 to July 2023, the program received nearly 246,000 applications — almost 34,000 more than the previous year. And officials expect demand to grow further.

Between the lines: Hiring 49 people to handle the growing number of paid leave applications won't require additional funding, but the Legislature still must sign off on using existing money this way, according to ESD officials.

  • Separately, the ESD is asking for $8.6 million in new money to implement other parts of the paid family leave program, such as opening it up to federally recognized tribes and creating better ways of collecting unpaid premiums.

What's next: State lawmakers will consider the budget requests after a new legislative session begins in January.


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