Paid-Leave Advocates Press for Build Back Better, Aim to Improve CA Program

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
State data show that between 2017 and 2019, the number of paid-leave claims from the lowest-wage workers declined while claims from the highest earners rose by one-third. Photo Credit: Vitalii Vodolazskyi

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The push to offer paid leave nationwide is in high gear. A plan already passed the U.S. House as part of the Build Back Better Act, but it faces unanimous Republican opposition in the Senate, where a vote is expected in the coming weeks.

California is one of nine states plus D.C. already offering paid leave, so advocates are focused on convincing holdout Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in a state hit hard by the opioid crisis.

Neil Sroka, communications director for the group Paid Leave for the U.S., said paid leave is sometimes about caring for yourself, so you can be there for the people who depend on you.

“When someone needs to get treatment for addiction recovery, they oftentimes need to go to inpatient services for two weeks or four weeks,” Sroka explained. “And for many, that means choosing between a future without substance-use disorder and their job.”

Opponents say the $2 trillion Build Back Better bill is too costly.

Meanwhile, California advocates are working to improve the system in the Golden State, where people can take up to eight weeks of paid family leave per year, as part of the state disability program, and recover 60% to 70% of their salary. State data showed many low-income families can’t afford to use the program, because they need their whole salary.

This year Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 123, which would have increased the pay rate to 90% for all workers, citing concerns it would have raised payroll taxes.

Sroka pointed out Build Back Better would help California fund the program.

“One of the provisions of the paid-leave program is it would offer additional funding support for states like California that already offer a program,” Sroka noted. “But most importantly, it would be a federal framework that will make sure that everyone has access to it.”

Next year, the state Legislature will reconsider Assembly Bill 995, which would require employers to offer five days of paid sick leave per year, up from the current three.

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