Delays increase in Washington’s paid family leave program

Volume of applications means processing can take up to 10 weeks

By Rachel La Corte

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Weekly benefits under Washington state’s new paid family leave law are now taking up to 10 weeks to process because of the high number of people applying for the program.

Under the law, eligible workers receive 12 weeks paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child or for a serious medical condition of the worker or the worker’s family member, or 16 weeks for a combination of both. An additional two weeks may be used if there is a serious health condition with a pregnancy.

Weekly benefits under the new law are calculated based on a percentage of the employee’s wages and the state’s weekly average wage — which is now $1,255 — though the weekly amount paid out is capped at $1,000.

In the first six weeks since the program went live last month, more than 30,000 people have applied, more than triple the amount that was projected in that same time frame, according to the Washington Employment Security Department, which administers the program.

Officials first started warning of delays at the end of January, saying that applications could take up to a month. But in a video statement Monday, Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said that the increase in demand has increased the potential wait time to 10 weeks.

“We know that that’s simply too long,” she said, saying she believes that is the peak and hopes to get wait time down to two weeks by June.

LeVine said that the agency is adding staff and looking to simplify processing to deal with the high volume of applications. She also encouraged applicants to not apply until their event has occurred, and to check their status online and make sure they have gone through the application checklist to ease the application process.

Once processed, applicants will get retroactive payments back to when their leave started, not from when their application is processed.

Program spokeswoman Clare DeLong said that as of this week, 49 percent of total applications are for bonding with a new child, 29 percent are for someone dealing with a serious health condition, and 12 percent are for caring for a family member with a serious health condition. The remainder are for pregnancy-related medical leave or family leave for military families. The agency has processed close to 10,000 individual applications and has paid out more than 25,000 weekly claims.

For the past year, employees and employers have paid into the program that was approved by the Legislature in 2017.

Premiums of 0.4 percent of workers’ wages fund the program, with 63 percent paid by employees and 37 percent paid by employers.

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