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Paid Family Leave Program Goes Mostly Unused

Study finds only 5% of Californians took benefit of nation's 1st such law, passed in 2004

TUESDAY, Sept. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Few parents with chronically ill kids have made use of California's pioneering paid family leave program, and most of them are not even aware it exists, according to researchers at the Rand Corp.

In 2004, California adopted the nation's first family leave law. It is funded by employees through an automatic payroll deduction of an average of $1 per week.

After a one-week waiting period, the program provides most employees six weeks of non-job-protected paid leave annually to care for ill family members, and pays up to 55 percent of an individual's salary.

In a study in the Sept. 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers surveyed the parents of chronically ill children.

Six months before the program began, 21 percent of parents reporting taking at least four weeks of leave during the proceeding year to care for their child. Eighteen months into the program, there was no significant change in this percentage, even when compared to similar groups of parents in Illinois, a state without paid family leave.

The researchers also found that only 18 percent of the survey respondents were aware of the program, and only 5 percent had used the benefits.

The majority of the parents who took enough leave to qualify for the program did not know it existed. And, those who did not take leave even when they felt their child's illness required it were also unaware of the program. These parents remained at work because they feared losing income, losing their jobs, and damaging their careers.

"We were surprised that the vast majority of these parents didn't even known about the program," Mark Schuster, a Rand researcher and chief of general pediatrics at Children's Hospital Boston, said in a JAMA news release. "Parents seem to have no idea that they are paying for this benefit. They're leaving money on the table at a time when they could really use it to be with their sick kids."

The lack of awareness about the leave program may be due in part to the fact that the California law did not require employers to notify all employees about the program, and no comprehensive public education campaign was initiated about it, the researchers said.

More information

The Paid Family Leave Collaborative has more about California's paid family leave act.

-- Krisha McCoy

SOURCE: RAND Corporation, news release, Sept. 2, 2008

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