Friday, January 20, 2017

NY already behind on paid family leave

In the early months of 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo consistently touted the progressive leadership of the Empire State in championing the strongest paid family leave policy in the nation.

The new rules go into effect next January.  Employees will be eligible for 12 weeks of paid family leave when caring for an infant, a family member with a serious health condition or to relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service.

Benefits will be phased-in, beginning at 50 percent of an employee’s average weekly wage, capped to 50 percent of the statewide average weekly wage. Once fully implemented in 2021, payments will hit 67 percent of their average weekly wage, capped to 67 percent of the statewide average weekly wage.

This program will be funded entirely through a payroll deduction on employees who will be eligible to participate after having worked for their employer for six months.

That’s all we know about the program.

Despite being a leader in this endeavor, the state is already behind: With less than a year to go to implementation, policymakers, state agencies, employers and employees have been left in the dark about how the program will be launched, administered, and funded.

It’s eerily similar to the cloak of darkness that had county clerks across the state scrambling to figure out how to address the SAFE Act’s handgun recertification issue after 3 years of zero guidance from the Governors’ office. That was rectified by a surprise bombshell dropped at the very last minute in which administration of the policy was granted to the State Police.

This won’t be that easy.

While we know that the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) will manage the paid leave program, every single employer in the state has much to do in the next 11 months to get prepared and hold up their end of the bargain. They have to learn state policies, make their own internal policies, update employee handbooks, educate employees on the leave act and how to apply for it, tell workers how much they are contributing to the state fund, and work with payroll companies to appropriately earmark and disburse the insurance fees.

That’s a lot for businesses to learn and prepare (after all, it is a stark culture change for most) amidst all the other things they do on a day to day basis -- like running their companies and keeping people employed.

When will they find out what’s expected? It certainly won’t be anytime soon and it probably won’t be until after summer. By then, it might be so late that you could easily imagine the state delaying the launch of the program and/or being saddled with a lawsuit delaying it.

I lean towards a late-summer, early-fall info campaign not out of pessimism but because the state truly appears to be making little headway.

I attempted to navigate Cuomo’s 2017-2018 budget to see if I could ascertain how much was projected to be collected and disbursed over the first few months of the leave program. I found nothing. I also found nothing on the WCB’s breakdown. What I did find in a budget narrative was an “out” of sorts for the Governor – under “legislation required for the budget” there was a line that requested the development of a Risk Adjustment Paid Family leave Fund. So, while the previous budget (2016-2017) saw the announcement of the birth of the paid leave program from a grandstanding standpoint, the necessary legislation never accompanied it. Here we are a year later and the plan is still lacking teeth and legality.

Somehow, in the next few months, the Legislature has to work together (if that’s even possible) to allow the fund to even exist at all. Then, the WCB, number crunchers, and others have to develop a sustainable budget and determine what the insurance fee (tax) will be. Once that is settled upon, only then can the policies be ironed out and delivered.

It’s a disappointing lack of true leadership by the state. Having a vision is fine, but if there’s no strategy, no meat, to back up the vision, it’s totally meaningless.

8 million private sectors workers will be eligible for the program. They and their bosses need to know soon how it will all work – something that state officials still don’t know, a full year into the discussions.      

From the 23 January 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

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