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Massive demand has new WA paid family leave program struggling to keep up

Washington's new paid family leave program hits delays. (Unsplash)

Washington state’s new paid family and medical leave program is swamped, leaving many to wait weeks before money arrives.

Benefits of Washington paid family leave about to pay off

As of Jan. 1, 2020, when a worker goes on leave in Washington, they can get up to 90 percent of their wages covered by the state, maxing out at $1,000 a week. The average worker gets about 70 to 75 percent of their usual wages reimbursed.

Clare DeLong with the State Employment Security Office says her department has gotten upwards of 30,000 applications for reimbursement, about four times more than expected. Because of that, it’s taking up to 10 weeks for applicants to get their money.

“[There’s been a] tremendous response to the program, and it really speaks to the needs we have in this state,” DeLong told KIRO Radio. “With that being said, it is creating longer processing times than we had anticipated.”

In hopes of speeding things up, she says her office is hiring new workers, and getting help from others in the department. Additionally, the application review process is being streamlined and simplified.

“We are working hard to meet the demand for this new program and apologize for any hardship longer processing times may cause,” the State Employment Security Office said in a news release.

New Washington state laws that took effect on Jan. 1, 2020

Washington is the the fifth state to set up a program for family and medical leave. DeLong describes it as “really the most robust in the nation,” covering nearly all workers, both part-time and full-time.

Benefits include partial wage reimbursement for at least 12 weeks when you have a qualifying family or medical event, 16 weeks if you have events qualifying for both family and medical, and up to 18 weeks under certain special circumstances, such as pregnancy complications.

All workers and their employers started paying a new family leave tax in 2019 to backfill funds for the program’s implementation in 2020.

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