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Oregon set to collect contributions for paid leave benefits

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By PETER WONG
Oregon Capital Bureau

Oregon, after years of preparation, is set to start collecting contributions from businesses and employees for a new state program of paid family and medical leave.

Contributions are scheduled to start Jan. 1. Benefits are scheduled to be paid starting Sept. 3, 2023.

“We want to get the word out about this vital safety net for working people in Oregon,” said Karen Madden Humelbaugh, director of Paid Leave Oregon for the Employment Department.

The initial contributions for 2023 are capped at 1% of wages. For employees, their share is six tenths, or 60%; for employers of 25 or more, their share is four tenths, or 40%. Smaller employers are not required to contribute, though their employees will have to, and employees are covered.

Tribes, self-employed workers and independent contractors also can opt into the program.

Employers that already offer plans with equivalent benefits can be excused from the program. So far, 31 plans have been submitted, and the Employment Department has approved six. Humelbaugh said others are in the process, and the agency has set 30 days as the turnaround point for a decision.

Benefits under the Oregon program are set at a maximum of $1,215 per week for 12 weeks during a single year. The contributions go into a trust fund for benefits, much like employer payroll taxes go into a trust fund for unemployment benefits.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oregon is one of 11 states and Washington, D.C., with such programs. Oregon is among four states that have not yet started them. California and Washington already have done so.

Oregon approved a family-leave law in 1991, two years ahead of the federal law. But its requirement for 12 weeks of leave is unpaid.

Humelbaugh said that unlike definitions in other states, Oregon’s program covers survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, harassment and stalking. (Protections for them were added to the family-leave law starting in 2014.)

It also allows for medical leave for workers, care of a family member with a serious illness or injury, or the addition of a new child through birth, adoption or foster placement.

“It has one of the most inclusive definitions of family in the country,” she said. “Family could be a neighbor, a friend or someone in our close circle.”

Workers who choose to take leave for at least 90 days will have their jobs protected.

President Joe Biden proposed a paid leave program under federal law with an initial benefit of $4,000 per month over 12 weeks, slightly less generous than Oregon’s program. But Congress did not pass it. It is unclear yet what happens to state programs if a federal benefit is authorized in the future.

The Oregon Legislature extended the deadlines slightly in 2021 legislation.

Employers will use the Oregon Employment Department’s new computer system, Frances Online, to file reports on employer and employee contributions to the paid leave fund. It is the same system that employers starting using on Sept. 6 to file payroll reports, the basis for the taxes that employers pay into the state unemployment benefits trust fund.

“That is part of the same portal. So we are ready for the contributions,” Humelbaugh said. “We will be using that modernized system. Everything seems to be in line to meet that deadline.”

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