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Washington State Receives Grant To Analyze Unimplemented Paid Family Leave Law

Washington state Representative June Robinson
Washington State Legislature
Washington state Representative June Robinson

A Washington state lawmaker who has been trying to make paid family leave available to all workers said a new federal grant will be a big help. 

The U.S. Department of Labor Tuesday awarded $247,000 to Washington state to research how paid family leave might be implemented.

Democratic Representative June Robinson said she hopes the grant "will move this issue forward."

"As the population ages, we all need time to care for elderly parents on one end and young children on the other end,” she said. “This is an issue that I think is really overdue for the workers of our state.”

In 2007, the Washington Legislature approved a state-run paid family leave program, but it has never taken effect due to lack of funding. Earlier this year, Robinson proposed a small, new payroll tax to support a benefits fund. It didn't get very far in the legislature.

Under her scheme, workers would have qualified for 12 weeks of paid time off -- up to $1,000 per week -- to care for a newborn or a seriously ill family member.

At present, American workers are entitled to unpaid maternity or paternity leave or to care for a very sick family member. However, the Labor Department said many workers don't take that leave now because they can't afford to go without a paycheck.

Some Northwest companies voluntarily provide paid family leave as a worker benefit to attract and retain good employees.

Washington and California were among eight states and counties awarded federal grant money this week for research and implementation of paid family leave. Montana received a similar grant last year.

California launched paid family leave statewide more than a decade ago, so its grant is meant to study the "economic and social impact" of the worker benefit.

Copyright 2015 Northwest News Network

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.