Paid Family & Medical Leave in Washington

Jennifer Donahue
WCAAP Communications Manager

Washington’s state legislature passed Paid Family & Medical Leave legislation in 2017, with strong support from WCAAP. Payroll contributions began in 2019 and benefits began in January 2020. Ours is the fifth comprehensive program in the country and allows workers to take up to 12 weeks (in some cases up to 18 weeks) of paid leave to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, manage their own health concerns, or cope with a military deployment. Paid leave to bond with a new child can be taken any time in the first year after welcoming a new baby or child into your home and does not have to be taken all at once.

The program was intentionally designed with an eye on equity and improving health equity and outcomes for workers. The Economic Opportunity Institute offers a detailed look at the implementation of the program and some of the lessons learned. In the first six months of the program, 85,000 applications were filed and 10-12,000 new applications are received each month. About 40% of applications so far have been to care for a new child. The Economic Opportunity Institute reports:

During the program’s first six months, about 65% of applicants have been women with a median age of 33. Men account for about 40% of bonding, family care, and non-pregnancy medical claims.

The racial and ethnic breakdown of applicants has roughly reflected Washington’s population. Overall, 65% of applicants have been White/non-Hispanic (compared to 67% of state residents), 6% have been Black (compared to 4% of state population), 13% Latinx (compared to 13% of state population), and 9% Asian (compared to 9% of state population).[3]

The launch of this paid leave program dovetails with WCAAP’s focus on early childhood. Thanks to funding from Perigee Fund through our First Year Families initiative to promote secure attachment and family well-being, we will work to increase pediatric provider knowledge of paid leave benefits. Our goal is for families to understand the health and development benefits to their child when they take time to bond in the first year of life, and to enable pediatric providers to easily and confidently share information about Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program. Parental access to paid leave to welcome a new child results in reduced infant mortality, reduced post-partum mood disorders, improved attachment between parents and their babies, and increased uptake and duration of breastfeeding. We will continue to share information on this project as we proceed!


Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave
MomsRising: The ABCs of Paid Leave in WA