Republicans offer long-term plan to rescue family and medical leave program without rate hike

OLYMPIA… Republican senators have introduced a plan to rescue the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave insurance program and put it on stable footing through 2028, without increasing the premiums paid by Washington workers.

“It was a shock to learn this enormously popular, pro-family program is in such dire financial straits – but now that we know, let’s deal with it in a long-term way that won’t increase premiums or reduce the benefits that have been promised,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, prime sponsor of  Senate Bill 5959.

Created in 2017 by a Republican senator’s bill, the program began collecting premiums from eligible employers and employees in 2019 and began paying benefits in 2020. In 2021 alone it provided $1 billion in support so people could care for newborns or sick family members.

Only this past month did the agency administering the program – the Employment Security Department – disclose to members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee that after the first quarter of 2020, payouts have consistently exceeded the program’s income from premiums, drawing its reserve low enough to trigger an automatic rate increase this year.

Other legislation would leave the door open to a rate increase in 2023. In contrast, SB 5959 would not only refill the reserve and prevent a rate increase this year, it also would put about 25% of the state’s annual cannabis revenue – around $125 million per year – toward stabilizing the program for at least another six years, without an increase in premiums.

“Our proposal offers certainty to working people and employers that they won’t find in the other approach,” said Wilson, R-Vancouver. “There seems to be bipartisan agreement on refilling the account to prevent a rate increase this year, but only Republicans are offering a responsible, long-term solution that would do better by the workers and the families of our state.”

Wilson said it’s frustrating that for the second time in one session, legislators are having to deal with a state-run program that is facing financial insolvency – the first being the long-term care trust that was just delayed into 2023.

“Republicans know that simply patching the hole in this popular and effective program won’t help rebuild the public trust. SB 5959 is a better step in the right direction.”