Gregoire Suspends the Washington State Family Leave Program…Or Did She?

In a move supported by AGC Gov. Gregoire made a fairly surprising announcement that the state would suspend funding for its paid family leave program. The Governor made the announcement during a debate before the Association of Washington Business and the move was later confirmed by Karen Lee Commissioner of the Employment Security Department.

The nations economic problems are causing our states tax revenues to fall Lee said. Although most of our agency is paid for with federal funding the Family Leave Insurance program is a state program that uses money from the State General Fund. When you hear or read about anticipated budget shortfalls in state government it is primarily the State General Fund that theyre talking about. By suspending the Family Leave Insurance (FLI) program about $4 million in General Fund money will remain unspent which could help offset a portion of the anticipated shortfall.

There is more to the story however. Funds can be withheld from creating the computer systems to implement the legislation but the fact remains that it is still a state law: beginning October 1 2009 benefits are payable to eligible individuals on a qualifying paid family leave. If that entitlement remains on the books unamended or unrepealed presumably a class of individuals will have a legal claim against the state for benefits starting in October.

So suspending the program isnt something that can be accomplished merely by not funding it in the budget -- although thats a start. Itll take a bill to amend or repeal the effective date from the original 2007 legislation. The Legislature will have to decide whether or not to suspend the program. But faced with no viable source of funds for its benefits or administration thats a responsible plan.