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Does your state offer a benefits program for maternity leave? Do not make the very common mistake of assuming that it does.
Workers in the USA are wrong far more often than they are right when they do. The sooner you understand your rights and benefits while one or both parents are not working, the more time you have to prepare.
Many prospective parents are already familiar with the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which applies nationwide.
The primary features of this law provide us with a handy outline to talk about how different state programs might fill in some of the gaps.
- 12 weeks of job-protected leave – some extend the amount of time
- For eligible employees working for qualifying employers – some expand access
- Unpaid leave of absence – some replace a portion of income
States Extending the Length of Maternity Leave
FMLA provides parents with up to twelve weeks of job-protected leave during a twelve-month period. The time can quickly evaporate if mom experiences complications of pregnancy and needs to stop working months before her delivery.
The same holds true if her infant delivers preterm and needs extended care at home after discharge from the NICU.
FMLA allows you to take leave for your own disability, to bond with you baby, or to care for a sick family member.
States with supplementary laws sometimes limit access to care of a family member (including a healthy newborn).
While on the surface, this appears very restrictive, this wording allows families to take job-protected leave sequentially rather than concurrently.
- 12 weeks of FMLA for mom’s pregnancy disability; followed by
- X additional weeks of State FMLA to care for an infant at home
The states with laws allowing you to take sequential leave are California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island,
Other states extend the length of job protections simply by making the number bigger than twelve such as California, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Washington State.
States Expanding Access to Maternity Leave Rights
FMLA does not apply to every working parent. In fact, only about 40% of parents work for a qualifying employer and meet the hours worked criteria.
This leaves a rather large portion of the population without any legal protections during maternity and paternity leave.
- Covered Employers
- Private sector – 50 or more employees
- Public agencies – any size
- Elementary and secondary school teachers – any size
- Eligible Employees
- Worked for the employer for at least 12 months
- 1,250 hours of service in the last 12 months
- Works at location with at least 50 employees in a 75 mile radius
The states that expand access by loosening either the employer and/or the employee criteria include Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington DC, and Washington State.
States with Paid Maternity Leave Benefits
Since FMLA provides for unpaid leave of absence with no exceptions or complicated criteria, it should be simpler to spell out how the states might fill the gap with paid leave benefits.
If only it were that easy. To get the complete picture you need to explore temporary disability, paid family leave, unemployment compensation, and access to health insurance.
Only five states have a temporary disability insurance program which covers maternity leave. They are California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.
Each program replaces a different percentage of mom’s income up to a hard monthly cap. They cover mom if she must stop working before delivery because of a pregnancy related medical condition.
They cover her recovery for normal labor and delivery, plus additional time if she suffers from postpartum complications – not depression or the baby blues.
Temporary disability does not cover paternity leave, as dad is physically able to work. You can buy a private policy at work, but must begin the coverage prior to conception.
Paid Family Leave
Only three states have a mandatory paid family leave policy. They are California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.
This program replaces a portion of either parent’s income (both mom and/or dad) while they take time to bond with their newborn, or care for a sick family member.
Parents working in the forty-seven remaining states must be prepared with an emergency fund to weather the storm.
You cannot purchase any private insurance that replaces income for care of a family member.
Parents may be able to collect unemployment during maternity leave under very limited circumstances.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funded financial incentives for the states to adopt exceptions for when workers voluntarily terminate employment. In the past, you could not collect if you quit your job for any reason.
Now, you may be able to collect if you terminate employment for a “compelling family reason,” and you work in one of the twenty-two states that accepted the incentives.
- Care of a seriously ill family member qualifies in twenty-two states and may apply to a father-to-be caring for his spouse experiencing complications of pregnancy, or either parent when caring for a premature or very sick infant.
- An employee’s own disability qualifies in six states, and may apply to an expectant woman experiencing complications, or a new mother with postpartum disorders. They are Arkansas, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Texas, and Washington State.
FMLA provides for continued access to group health insurance on the same basis as when working.
Many employers contribute towards a significant portion of the premium. When the employer contribution disappears, the family’s share of the monthly premium suddenly skyrockets when they can least afford it.
Every state allows you to enroll in Medicaid at any time, and loosens income thresholds for pregnant women.
If you live in a state that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, you should not have to worry about falling into the subsidy gap while you are expecting.
If you lose coverage and earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, you can buy a plan outside of open enrollment.
The plan will cover preexisting conditions with no waiting period. Your unpaid leave may help you qualify for income-based subsidies.
Kevin Haney is a former credit bureau executive and now owns a health insurance agency that helps families make having children more affordable. You can follow him at www.GrowingFamilyBenefits.com.