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Disability advocates look to expand paid leave for workers

(Photo by: BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — It’s more and more common these days to hear companies offering paid maternity and paternity leave for new parents, but what about paid leave after your child is born? Or for aging parents?

Many disability advocates here in Arizona and around the country are pushing for paid family and medical leave. Currently, most American workers can take up to 12 weeks off without pay under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

According to the Arc, a national disability advocacy group, one in five Americans have some form of disability. This means many American families are impacted by the costly and time-consuming aspects of serious health conditions.

Jon Meyers with the Arc of Arizona said this makes it difficult to keep caretakers in the workforce.

“There is a tremendous amount of unpredictability in life,” he said. “There are medical appointments that need to be attended to, often medical crises that occur at a moments notice.

“There are just basic care needs that need to be met.”

Other states like Oregon, Connecticut and Washington have already passed paid family and medical leave acts, Meyers said.

In Washington, employees can take up to 12 weeks of paid leave if they work 820 or more hours over the course of four of the previous five calendar quarters. This includes having a baby, caring for a family member with an illness or medical event or even some military-connected events.

“If appropriately designed, [paid leave] can give families the kind of flexibility they need to meet the challenges of their lives, to meet the needs of their children and still maintain full-time employment just working in maybe a slightly less traditional form.”

Meyers said paid leave can help alleviate strain on entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

“It makes sense for the state because it’s a potential cost saver,” Meyers said. “If we can devise paid leave structures that allow people to continue their employment but have the flexibility to meet the needs of their care recipients then we’ve gone a long way toward ensuring that people can continue to be taxpayers, can continue to contribute to the system and aren’t required to take from the system.”

He added this is also a benefit to corporations.

“It makes such perfect sense for businesses, for a number of reasons,” Meyers added. “In fact, it’s better for corporations because those employees continue to be loyal and productive employees.

“They’re just doing it in perhaps a less traditional way.”

Which he says is especially important in Arizona, as the state is expecting a large growth in the population over 65 in the next few years.

“The Department of Health Services in Arizona estimated a few years ago that we’re going to see what they consider a 174% increase in the number of Arizonans over the age of 65 by 2025.” Meyers said. “What that means is we’re going to have more people reaching an age where they require care.

“At the same time, our youth and adolescent population is growing so we have this huge sandwich generation.”

He said this gives caretakers in the workforce an ultimatum.

“So we have caregivers who are not only taking care for their children who have disabilities but they’re also caring for older loved ones who are having cognitive decline or physical decline and we are putting them in a bind,” Meyers said. “We are effectively saying they have no options except to leave the workforce to potentially impoverish themselves in order to care for both the younger and older folks who rely on them.

Meyers added that while advocates in Arizona are pushing for paid leave, it has not gained much traction among local lawmakers.

“I wouldn’t say there isn’t sympathy for the movement here in Arizona, we simply haven’t orchestrated something on a state-wide scale and that is something we have to look toward for the future,” Meyers said.

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