As many as 7,000 workers who've applied for benefits under California's paid
family leave program are learning they'll have to wait for as long as 6 weeks
for their checks to arrive from the state, according to the Sacramento Bee newspaper.
Under the first-of-its-kind program, California workers may take paid time
off to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent or domestic partner or
to bond with a newborn, foster or adopted child. They receive 55 percent of
their salary, up to $728, for as many as six weeks in a one-year period.
Workers began paying into the program Jan. 1 and became eligible for benefit
payments on July 1.
Officials at the state agency administering the program, the Employment Development
Department, told the Bee they are receiving 650 claims a day--fewer than
expected. But they acknowledge delays in processing even that number. They blame
understaffing, computer problems, and the glitches inevitable with any new program.
"We're working on it day and night," said department spokeswoman
Schroeder told the Bee that the EDD is hiring 15 temporary workers in Sacramento,
adding 35 workers in Fresno, and authorizing overtime for the 100 workers already
processing claims. That, along with computer upgrades, should stem the backlog,
And while about 7,000 claims are late, she added, half of them involve incomplete
or incorrect applications.
None of that is much consolation to couples like Michael and Rachel O'Kennedy,
who told the Bee they are still waiting for a final response to the application
they filed six weeks ago. Michael said he wanted to take paid family leave to
bond with the couple's baby, Isabella, but will put the plan on hold because
of the uncertainty.
"They call it family leave, but it's stress leave. That's what it is,"
Rachel O'Kennedy said.
Likewise, the California Chamber of Commerce--which opposes the program
on grounds that it could be overused and abused--isn't reassured by the
lower-than-expected number of applicants. A spokeswoman, Sara Lee, told the
Bee that demand for the program will grow as more workers become aware of it.