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Oregon Fights to Delay Ambitious Benefits Program for Families

Getting sick is scary and stressful. Having a child can be, too. Going to work when you’re already sick or stressed from family situations just makes your life that much harder. It would be so nice if everyone could just take paid time away from work while they handled life situations. Still, for many workers, that’s impossible.

Or is it? It’s true that most Americans don’t have access to a paid leave program. However, Oregon legislators took steps to change that in 2019. That’s when the Oregon Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance (PFMLI) program was first enacted.

This groundbreaking bill was supposed to take effect in September of this year, but now there’s a battle to delay it. Here’s what you need to know about the program, how it will affect you, and what to do if it’s delayed.

What Is the Oregon Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program?

The US is one of the only developed countries in the world that doesn’t have a nationwide paid family and medical leave program. These are government-organized plans designed to pay people who are temporarily out of work for health or family reasons.

According to a recent study of 41 developed countries, the lowest amount of time off required was at least eight weeks.The US, in contrast, only mandates employers to offer six weeks of leave, and it’s unpaid. Employers can provide more, but it’s not required, and it’s not federally protected.

The Oregon PFMLI program is intended to change that for state residents. Not only would it double the amount of family and medical leave to twelve weeks, but it also guaranteed employees would be paid for that time. It’s just the ninth state paid leave program in the country, and it’s the most generous by far.

The barriers to PFMLI eligibility are low. An employee needs to have earned just $1000 in the past year from an employer to qualify. All employers must pay into the PFMLI fund, so all employees are potentially eligible. Self-employed people can also take part if they choose to pay into the fund.

Once PMFLI goes into effect, it will cover 100% of low-income workers’ weekly wages for the twelve weeks. While benefits do decrease as a person’s income rises, all people remain eligible. The program caps the amount someone can receive per week at 120% of the state’s average weekly wage.

How PFMLI Will Help Vulnerable People

Everyone will benefit from PMFLI once it goes into place. However, it’s particularly helpful to vulnerable people like single or divorced parents and victims of abuse.

For example, if you have full custody of your children and get injured, you still need to support your kids. If you rely on regular paychecks, unpaid time off may not be an option. PFMLI would let you take the time you need to heal instead of having to choose between your kids and your health.

Similarly, PFMLI is critical for victims of abuse. The bill specifically covers time off that’s needed to escape from an abuser. Many abused people are afraid to leave because they believe their abuser will find them at their workplace. Twelve weeks of paid leave will help these people get a new, safer life started before they need to get back to work.

Why Oregon Is Trying to Delay PMFLI

So, PMFLI is an excellent program. Legislators were heavily in favor of it, and Oregon citizens are excited for the program to kick in. Why are people trying to delay it?

It’s simple. The original bill was enacted in December 2019. Just three months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The Oregon Employment Department, which is responsible for building the systems PFMLI will use, was immediately overwhelmed by unemployment claims. Over the past year, that hasn’t changed. The people who were supposed to create the basic computer programs and forms for PFMLI were simply too busy to complete the task.

As a result, the Employment Department is petitioning lawmakers to delay the program rollout until 2022. The argument is that the Department is still too overwhelmed to produce the critical systems in the next three months. Considering that the state was the slowest in the country to pay out unemployment benefits during the pandemic, that’s a fair point.

Lawmakers still haven’t come to a conclusion on whether the program will be delayed. Many critics of the delay point out that there’s never been a more important time to give Oregonians better medical leave protections. As the September deadline creeps up, it’s unclear what will be available this year.

Other Support for Families

Whether Oregon’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance program kicks in this year or next year, other types of support are available. Oregon already offers twelve weeks of unpaid family and medical leave to residents. That’s twice the federal amount. If you can live without your income, you’ll at least know that you’re guaranteed to have a job in three months.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Senate is still improving the current Oregon Family Leave Act. The most recent update, from May 26th, expands eligibility for family leave. Specifically, it allows people to take time away from work to take care of a child during a public health crisis. The new law came just in time for parents to take unpaid time off to care for a child over the summer because of the pandemic.

Take Advantage of Oregon’s Family and Medical Leave

No matter what happens with PFMLI this year, you still need to take care of your family. Oregon law guarantees you’ll still have a job if you need to take leave for family or medical emergencies. Whether you’re a single parent or you’re trying to divorce an abusive partner, your job is safe.

Don’t let fear hold you back. Reach out to an experienced family law attorney if you have any questions. Oregon makes it easy to get out of bad relationships and keep your kids and job. Working with the right attorney can help you get everything wrapped up before your generous leave runs out.