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August 16, 2004
Backlog in CA's Paid Family Leave Program
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.

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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 Suzanne Schroeder.

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, she said.

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.

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