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Bill to expand paid parental leave in Ohio would impact virtually no families

Bill to expand paid parental leave in Ohio would impact virtually no families
Posted at 7:54 PM, Oct 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-06 20:06:06-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A bill meant to expand paid parental leave in Ohio won't impact the vast majority of families in the state.

Only 11 states currently offer total paid family and medical leave, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Unsurprisingly, Ohio is not one of them.

Some parents, like Kaitlin Perciak, are just asking for less than nothing.

"When you go into the hospital room, you're supposed to be excited and happy," Perciak, a working mom from the Cleveland area, said. "And you just find out this tremendously awful situation just happened to you."

As she lay in her hospital bed after giving birth to her premature son, working mom Perciak said she got a shock from her company.

"I only had two weeks' worth of pay and I thought it was much, much more," she said.

She had carved out eight weeks to spend with her baby but said her then-employer had only covered the first two. Her husband had to get a second job to be able to help provide for the new family of three, which took away from his time with the baby, Perciak said.

It's been nearly 25 years since Ohio updated its leave policy for state workers.

Most families, like Perciak's, must rely on their private business employers to give them leave, but it is not required.

In Ohio, certain state employees get four weeks of paid family leave. Technically, qualifying workers could get up to six weeks of time off, but two of the six are a "waiting period" that employers don't pay for. Those two weeks are funded by the employee's personal time off.

State Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) said that isn't nearly enough.

"They increased it 12 weeks with no waiting period for federal employees under Donald Trump," Gavarone said. "And I thought, you know what? Why are we so different at the state level?"

Senate Bill 360 proposes to expand parental leave to twelve weeks for government-employee parents of newly born and adopted children. Parents could also get six weeks of paid leave if their child is stillborn. There would be no more two-week waiting period to get the benefits, as well.

Although some parents are happy to see an increase, the bill didn't live up to the expectations of other parents.

A News 5 analysis of state and census data shows only around .06% of workforce-aged Ohioans will actually be able to utilize these six to 12 weeks of family leave. Right now, only specific state workers, such as legislative employees and those in Executive-branch offices, would qualify.

"If you have a higher-up position in the government, then you probably will have more than other people," Perciak said, adding that the guidelines should be fairer.

"We'll see what private businesses do in response," Gavarone said. "But right now we're sticking to the state employees and we'll see how the conversation goes."

While Perciak says this is great for government employees she and other parents are dealing with inflation and economic struggles. Plus, abortion is no longer an option and more children will be born in Ohio.

Gavarone wants her bill to help combat those stressors, she said.

"You've got all these additional expenses from diapers and formula and clothes and medicine and doctor visits and all the things that go along with a new baby," the senator said. "And so if we can, you know, help families... Help them bond, be strong, get a strong and healthy start, then I think that's something we should support."

Perciak had planned to have another child but said she won't be able to afford one anytime soon. From the mother's perspective, the government is not looking at the actual lives of babies, mothers and their families.

"It's becoming almost impossible to want to make that decision to have kids because of these things that are not being touched on," the mother said. "And that's not fair to us."

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.