In summary

If new parents want to take bonding leave, or adult children want to apply for Paid Family Leave to care for an ill parent, they need to be able to afford a 40% pay cut. Senate Bill 951 would provide enough income for workers who contribute to the fund with each paycheck to access the benefit.

By Maria Elena Durazo, Special to CalMatters

María Elena Durazo is a state senator from Los Angeles and chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus. She is the seventh child in a family of 11 children born to migrant worker parents.

California’s Paid Family Leave program is failing Latino families and working Latina women because it does not provide working families enough income to take leave. 

Paid Family Leave became law 20 years ago this month. It was designed to ensure that newborns and newly adopted or fostered children could be cared for by loving family members during their first weeks at home, and that seriously ill adults could rely on their children, siblings, spouses and close family for care without causing them economic hardship.

However, Paid Family Leave and State Disability Insurance provide workers, including minimum-wage workers, only 60% of their regular income. If parents make $16 per hour, they would get $9.60 per hour in Paid Family Leave. If a new parent wants to take bonding leave, or an adult child wants to take leave to care for their ill parent, they need to be able to afford a 40% pay cut.  

As a result, hard-working lower- and middle-income families—disproportionately families of color—pay into the program out of every paycheck, but can never use the benefit.

Senate Bill 951 would provide workers earning roughly $57,000 a year or less Paid Family Leave income that covers 90% of their wages. SB 951 also would increase State Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave benefit rates to 70% for those who do not qualify as low-income, up to the benefit cap.

To fund this important increase, we would ask all workers to contribute the same share of their income into the fund by removing the contribution ceiling for incomes over $145,000 annually. This would provide an important measure of fairness. Under current law, workers earning $30,000 a year contribute 1.1% on all of their paycheck, compared with those taking home $300,000 annually, who only contribute on the first half of their earnings; their effective contribution is just .5%.

Shouldn’t workers who earn above $145,000 pay the same percentage of their income into the fund as a family that earns $57,000?

These low rates also prevent workers from taking leave they need for their own health, whether it’s to stop picking strawberries up until the due date for a new baby, to get needed treatments or chemotherapy, or to recover from surgery.    

California’s Paid Family Leave program compares poorly to programs in other states. A minimum-wage worker in California would receive less income from Paid Family Leave than in almost any other state, despite our state’s high costs of living. For families barely scraping by, working extra jobs, extra hours, and cutting costs at every opportunity, there’s no way to absorb a substantial pay cut when a baby is born or illness strikes. 

As the prices of groceries and housing soar, families’ chances of ever accessing the paid leave benefits to which they contribute plummet.  

As a result, workers making less than $20,000 a year make up 37% of those who pay into the Disability Insurance Fund, but only 14% of Paid Family Leave claims and 18% of State Disability Insurance claims. Lower-income families are not experiencing fewer health crises or pregnancies—they are just being forced to keep working through them.

California’s low benefit rate unfairly harms Latina mothers, nearly 3 in 5 of whom live below the federal poverty guidelines. Inability to access paid leave compounds the health disparities Latinas face, including higher rates of health challenges during and after pregnancy. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom, when we say that California cares about families, let’s make sure we include all families.

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Maria Elena Durazo previously has written about extending Medi-Cal benefits to undocumented adults and climate action.

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