Paid family leave claims are triple what was anticipated

It’s taking up to 10 weeks to process payments from the new state program.

OLYMPIA — Weekly benefits under Washington’s new paid family leave law are now taking up to 10 weeks to process because of the high number of people applying for the program.

Under the law, eligible workers receive 12 weeks of paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child or for a serious medical condition of the worker or the worker’s family member, or 16 weeks for a combination of both. An additional two weeks may be used if there is a serious health condition with a pregnancy.

Weekly benefits under the new law are calculated based on a percentage of the employee’s wages and the state’s weekly average wage — which is now $1,255 — though the weekly amount paid out is capped at $1,000.

In the first six weeks since the the program went live last month, more than 30,000 people have applied — more than triple the amount that was projected in that same time frame, according to the Washington Employment Security Department, which administers the program.

Officials first started warning of delays at the end of January, saying that applications could take up to a month. But in a video statement on Monday, Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said that the increase in demand has increased the potential wait time to 10 weeks.

“We know that that’s simply too long,” she said, saying she believes that is the peak and hope to get wait time down to two weeks by June.

LeVine said that the agency is adding staff and looking to simplify processing to deal with the high volume of applications. She also encouraged applicants to not apply until their event has occurred, and to check their status online and make sure they have gone through the application checklist to ease the application process.

Once processed, applicants will get retroactive payments back to when their leave started.

Program spokeswoman Clare DeLong said that as of this week, 49% of applications are for bonding with a new child, 29% are for someone dealing with a serious health condition and 12% are for caring for a family member with a serious health condition. The remainder are for pregnancy-related medical leave or family leave for military families. The agency has processed close to 10,000 applications and has paid out more than 25,000 weekly claims.

For the past year, employees and employers have paid into the program that was approved by the Legislature in 2017. Premiums of 0.4% of workers’ wages fund the program, with 63% paid by employees and 37% paid by employers.

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