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Protecting Workers, Nurturing Families: Building an Inclusive Family Leave Insurance Program

Findings and Recommendations from The New Jersey Parenting Project

Protecting Workers, Nurturing Families: Building an Inclusive Family Leave Insurance Program presents findings and recommendations from the first in-depth look at the experiences of low-income workers with New Jersey’s paid family leave policy. NCCP conducted a yearlong qualitative study with low-income working parents who recently welcomed a child into their family to find out how well the program is working for them, and ways it might be strengthened and reach even more working parents.

New Jersey Family Leave Insurance (FLI) — one of only three state programs in the nation — gives workers six weeks of paid time off per year to bond with a new child or care for a sick family member.  However, few low-income workers use FLI.  To find out why, and to determine how well FLI works for those who do use it, NCCP launched The New Jersey Parenting Project and conducted focus groups and interviews with low-income working parents of young children in Newark, Camden, and Trenton. Parents who both took up FLI and those who did not offered their perspectives on the program.

In the absence of a federal paid family leave program, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island implemented their own programs. New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance program, introduced in 2009, is funded through an employee payroll tax.  Benefits are paid at two-thirds of the worker’s average wage, up to a maximum weekly benefit of $615 in 2016.  New Jersey’s FLI program marks a major advance for the state’s workforce. Nevertheless, program take up is low and research on its impact is limited.

The full report addresses the following:

  • How effective is New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance program for low-income parents in terms of financial security and being able to bond with their new child?
  • Why aren’t more eligible low-income workers taking advantage of the program?
  • Are there program reforms that might improve take-up and otherwise make the state’s FLI program work better for these families?
  • What complementary action steps can policymakers and community-based organizations take to increase program take-up?

Main findings:

  • Family Leave Insurance is valuable for low-income mothers who use it. Applying for FLI is challenging.
  • Benefit payments are frequently late.
  • Parents who did not use FLI voiced strong support for the program once they learned about it.
  • A range of barriers discourages program take-up: Not knowing about the program, lack of employer support, confusing application process, lack of job security, and only partial wage replacement.

Informed by the lived experiences of low-income parents and prior FLI research, NCCP developed a set of recommendations for action by policymakers, employers, community-based organizations, and others to make New Jersey's landmark Family Leave Insurance program work better for the state's low-income parents. These are summarized below:

  • Improve Program Outreach
    • Create an outreach task force with the input of a range of stakeholders. The task force can increase awareness and bolster public opinion about the program through a multi-pronged communications campaign, among other activities.
  • Improve Program Adminstration
    • Simplify and reduce the information required from FLI applicants and their employer.
    • In general, improve capacity to expedite FLI application processing.
  • Improve Program Benefits
    • Longer periods of leave would help with bonding and breastfeeding.
    • Protect jobs for leave-takers.

The New Jersey Parenting Project was funded by the Schumann Fund for New Jersey, The Nicholson Foundation, and Annie E. Casey Foundation.