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In a move applauded by California lawmakers and activists, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday proposed expanding the state's paid family leave program. (Photo: Pixabay)

Slowly Catching Up to Developed World, Newsom's Plan for California Would Provide Longest Paid Family Leave in US

"This is not some utopian proposal," said one expert, but "in the U.S. it would be a breakthrough."

Jessica Corbett

In what some are calling a "bold" and "groundbreaking" move—at least by U.S. standards—California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday proposed the nation's longest paid family leave as part of his new state budget plan.

"The administration is committed to expanding the paid family leave program with the goal of ensuring that all newborns and newly adopted babies can be cared for by a parent or a close family member for the first six months," according to the governor's budget summary (pdf), which notes that such schemes lead to "positive health and educational outcomes for children, greater economic security for parents, and less strain on finding and affording infant child care."

That proposal and other family-friendly policies contained in the plan were celebrated by the California Legislative Women's Caucus.

"The Newsom administration clearly recognizes the critical importance of parents bonding with their infants during these most formative years, as well as a parent's ability to access affordable quality child care when they return to work," the group said in a statement. "The governor's proposal to significantly increase funding for universal preschool and early childhood education programs, along with six months of paid family leave, makes an important down payment on the future of California's children, women, and families."

Although Newsom's proposal is seen as "radical for the U.S., the only developed country in the world that doesn't guarantee paid time off to new mothers," as HuffPost points out: "Two-thirds of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development guarantee six months of paid time off to new mothers. Newsom's plan doesn't go that far," instead requiring that the six months be split by two relatives.

While the individual time off falls short of what many other developed nations offer to parents, there at least may be some benefits to the required split, as HuffPost outlines:

The egalitarian nature of Newsom's scheme could avoid one of the pitfalls of paid leave: putting women at a disadvantage in the workplace. Mothers wind up taking long workforce leaves, and fathers don't. Under his plan, if parents want their child to have six months of care provided by a family member, fathers would theoretically have to step up. Mothers still take the majority of leave in the state.

Currently, parents in California can each take up to six weeks of paid leave annually to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, with wage replacement of up to 70 percent of a worker's salary. Under the California Disability Insurance Program, birthmothers can take another six weeks off to recover, bringing the combined total for two-parent birth families to four months. That also means that same-sex couples and adoptive or single parents get less time to bond with new children.

"Look, the whole world has this, except for the United States... This is not some utopian proposal. In the U.S. it would be a breakthrough."
—Ruth Milkman, City University of New York

Newsom's proposal aims not only to increase paid time off but also to address that inequity. As the summary explains, under his program, "for example, each parent could take up to three months of paid parental leave, and if the child does not have two parents, the parent could designate a close relative to take the second three months of care."

In the short-term, the governor proposes adjusting the reserve requirement for the fund that supports the current program. To sort out the long-term logistics of the planned expansion, his administration intends to convene a task force over the next year. In addition to figuring out how to phase-in the new standards, the panel will also consider how to increase participation among eligible workers and examine job protection and non-retaliation policies.

"It's a developmental necessity," Newsom said of paid family leave at a Thursday press conference, according to HuffPost. "We're committed to this."

The governor's expansion plan, while still inferior to programs abroad, was welcomed by experts who believe it could push other governors and policymakers across the United States to consider similar or bolder overhauls to regional paid leave schemes.

"Look, the whole world has this, except for the United States," Ruth Milkman, a sociology professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a co-author of a book analyzing California's leave policy, told HuffPost. "This is not some utopian proposal. In the U.S. it would be a breakthrough."

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