Lawmakers, advocates push for paid family medical leave for Virginia families

RICHMOND, Va. -- There is a push at the Virginia General Assembly to provide paid family medical leave for Virginia families. Advocates said too many Virginians are forced to make the tough decision between caring for a loved one in need or returning to work in order to pay the bills.

Under the proposal, benefits would be paid to eligible families or individuals that equal "70 percent of the employee's average weekly wage" but would not to exceed $850 per week. The program would cap the duration someone could receive the benefits at 12 weeks per year.

The birth or adoption of the child, caring for a seriously ill parent or child, and a serious personal medical issue would all qualify a worker under the plan.

"Having to make a decision as to whether to be with a child or to go back to work is something none of us should be making," said Del. Jennifer Carol Foy (D-Stafford), who is carrying the legislation in the House of Delegates.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandates employees receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year, but advocates argue 55 percent of Virginia's working families cannot take FMLA because of their financial situation.

"None of us are guaranteed a smooth path in life. Likely all of us will be called upon to provide care for a loved one," said Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax), who is sponsoring a similar bill in the Virginia Senate.

Employees and employers would pay the state premiums, similar to paying for an insurance policy, in order to fund the programs. Some state lawmakers have expressed concern that the financial set up would place an undue burden on small businesses, opposers of the plan said.

Michelle Alexander, a teacher in Prince William County, spoke about the years of hardship her family faced while caring for aging family members and her young daughter, who was diagnosed with cancer. While her daughter's health improved, Alexander said her school district was forced to move on when her time off and FMLA period ran out.

"While all caregivers are honored to be there for the ones they love, the job is overwhelming and often times soul-crushing.  We shouldn't have the added burden of financial ruin, a burden that paid family medical leave could help avoid," Alexander said.

Four states have paid family leave programs already, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).  Washington D.C. and Washington state are both in the process of implementing a plan, NCSL said.

In a sign that the issue may receive traction of some form this session, Republican delegate Roxann Robinson (R-Chesterfield) has proposed a similar piece of legislation that would provide paid parental leave for state employees.

Both Carroll Foy and Boysko's bills have been referred to committees for consideration.

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