By: Stephen M. Sweeney, New Jersey Newsroom.com
My daughter, Lauren, was born with Down syndrome. When she was first born, I could basically hold her in one hand. She spent the first two and a half months of her life in intensive care.
To be there — day in and day out — and to see your child go through that was easily the most difficult experience of my life. All you want to do is pick them up and tell them everything will be OK. All of you parents know that feeling.
Instead, I had to sit there and watch doctors and nurses shuffle in and shuffle out. And at the time, I really didn’t know what was happening. When the doctors told me she had Down syndrome, I had no clue what that meant. And when they explained it to me, I was mad at the doctors. How dare they talk about my daughter that way; they don’t know what they are saying.
But, as is often the case in life, Lauren was a blessing. Moreover, I was grateful that I got to be there in the hospital with her during those first few months.
I was lucky enough to have an employer who understood the situation and allowed me to take the time I needed. But had I been in a different job, I could have faced the prospect of choosing between spending 75 days at the hospital with my newborn or working to provide for my growing family.
I realized that many people did not have that choice. For many families, caring for a loved one, whether it’s a child or a parent, can be a difficult choice when measured against having to keep your job.
I didn’t want families to be forced into making that choice. I wanted them to have the same opportunity that I had. That is why I sponsored and advocated strongly for passage of New Jersey’s Paid Family Leave law. This weekend marks the law’s 6th anniversary in New Jersey.
It permits workers to apply for up to six weeks paid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, or a sick parent, spouse or child. The benefits are funded through an employee payroll tax, so employers bare no additional cost. In fact, the program was so successful, we were actually able to reduce the tax for workers. New Jersey’s example of reducing taxes while creating peace of mind for working people can serve as a national model.
Over 100,000 New Jerseyans have benefited from the program. It is my hope that many more will take advantage of it in the coming years. When we implemented Paid Family Leave, the usual cries about the sky falling were heard. What we have seen and experienced is just the opposite. I am proud to have sponsored Paid Family Leave in New Jersey: not just because of the program’s success, but because it was the right thing to do.