New Jersey was the second state in the country to adopt paid leave benefits, but the governor has halted efforts to significantly expand benefits on the backs of taxpayers and businesses.
Governor Chris Christie partially vetoed a bill, passed along party lines in both houses, that would have expanded the benefits program in every way.
Currently, New Jersey law allows for a maximum of six weeks of time off at two-thirds pay, but caps weekly payments at $633 per week in 2016. Workers can take time off to care for children, spouses, domestic partners, civil union partners, or parents of covered individuals.
The benefit is paid for by every worker in the state who contributes about 50 cents each week in payroll deductions – maxing out at $33.50 a year.
The proposed legislation would have doubled the maximum time off to 12 weeks; expanded the weekly cap for benefits from $633 to $932; provided temporary disability benefits for bonding with a newborn or adopted child; doubled intermittent leave from 42 to 84 days which workers take to continue working part-time; expanded the family members who can receive benefits to include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, and parents-in-law; and allowed leave to care for victims of domestic violence or sexual violence.
The bill would have also granted legal protections against retaliation and required greater dissemination about the program by employers.
The state paid out $88.7 million in benefits in 2016 and the proposed changes would almost double the program by increasing payout to nearly $150 million a year.
While he supported raising awareness about the program, the demands placed on businesses – particularly small businesses – would be too great, which prompted Governor Christie’s partial veto:
“This bill is a costly expansion [to paid family leave] … that will result in increased taxes to be paid by working citizens of New Jersey," Christie said. "The sponsors also ignore the potentially significant impact this bill will have on business, especially small businesses in this state."
Elsewhere he reportedly said:
"It is all but guaranteed that the cost of this program will increase and that cost will be borne by the taxpaying citizens of this state directly out of their paychecks," Christie said.
Christie is supportive of focusing on raising awareness about current benefits, which only an estimated 12 percent of eligible New Jersey families take advantage of.
The bill’s sponsors and supporters can try to override his veto, but that’s unlikely unless they get Republican support. Otherwise they can accept his recommendations.
Providing paid leave benefits is a hot topic in Washington and across states as policymakers grapple with how to help working families take time off to welcome new babies or care for sick family members. The challenge is balancing new benefit programs with the costs to taxpayers and to businesses.
Also, some would question whether it’s fair that all taxpayers should have to fund a benefit that the majority will likely never enjoy. For businesses, even when they don’t have to pay for the benefits directly, there are administrative costs and disruptions to their operations. Sadly, some young women face discrimination in the hiring process as well.
Christie made a wise decision by vetoing the expansion of this benefit. We should also consider the alternatives to government mandated leave policies, which don’t lead to harmful unintended consequences.