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Supporters of New York's Paid Family Leave welcome law's arrival

Avery Schneider, WBFO

New York State's Paid Family Leave law takes effect this month. It will give individuals partial compensation for up to eight weeks as they take time away from work for urgent family needs. Supporters of the employee-funded program say they'll provide outreach to help people understand how it works and how they may utilize it.

Under New York State's new Paid Family Leave law, working individuals may receive half their wages for up to eight weeks while taking a leave from their employers to care for a seriously ill close relative, bond with a newborn or newly adopted child or take care of loved ones while a family member is activated for military duty abroad.

"Family always comes first. It's a mantra we live by," said State Assemblyman Sean Ryan, one of the many backers of the new law. "Paid Family Leave makes this a reality for all New Yorkers."

The program will be funded by payroll deductions, no more than 0.126 percent from one's gross earnings (click here to calculate your estimated payroll deduction).

Ryan and other supporters of the state's law say while the federal Family Medical Leave Act allows individuals to take up to 12 weeks away from work to address family needs, that program is more limited in scope and does not provide any financial compensation during the leave.

Reverend Kirk Laubenstein, director of the Coalition for Economic Justice, says he wishes this leave program would have been available three years ago when his son was born.

"At the end of the day, God calls us to take care of our loved ones, right? And if that's true, but we can't actually put bread on the table, then what sort of care is that?" asked Laubenstein. "This Paid Family Leave... really allows people to take care of their loved ones and put bread on their table."

Supporters of the state's law say many individuals have found themselves having to choose between keeping a job and devoting the necessary time to address a loved one's needs. Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, deputy director of the Partnership for the Public Good, says this is especially a problem for many people of color in Erie County. 

"Unemployment rates of people of color, specifically in Erie County, remain higher than national averages," she said. "And in particular, for young workers of color, those that are in that age range that are giving birth or raising small children, or also caring for elderly parents, the unemployment rate for young workers of color in Erie County is more than twice the national average. Paid Family Leave, we really feel, is one of the important solutions that is going to address the ongoing disparities that we have in Buffalo and Erie County."

The law is designed to eventually expand. By the year 2021, workers will be able to take up to 12 weeks away from their jobs while collecting up to two-thirds of their usual wages. 

Monthly drop-in informational sessions to advise people about the law will be hosted by West Side Community Services, 161 Vermont Street in Buffalo. The first session will be held Monday, January 22, beginning at 4 p.m. Assemblyman Ryan said the session will continue beyond 6 p.m. so that people just finishing work for the day may take advantage of the session.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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