We have written before about how unfortunate it was that late in the 2021 legislative session a bill popped up to delay Oregon’s paid family medical leave program.

It was created by the Legislature in 2019. Families would be able to get paid time off — not only for births and deaths — but to care for others when they need it. Some employers already offer that. The bill was a way of guaranteeing it to more people by January 2023. Gov. Kate Brown thanked state Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, for his leadership in helping to get the bill passed.

But why was implementation delayed?

The state’s Employment Department said it couldn’t get it ready by the beginning of 2023. It was pushed back to September. That means, as The Oregonian pointed out, “tens of thousands of Oregonians stand to go without approximately $453 million in paid leave benefits they could have accessed in the first eight months of 2023.”

“This is an aggressive timeline in the best of times and as you know, the past year hasn’t been the best of times,” the program’s acting director, Gerhard Taeubel, told lawmakers in February.

Brown declined an interview with The Oregonian to explain her staff’s oversight of launching the program. Despite indicators the launch was off track, her office didn’t ensure the launch stayed on track and neither did legislators. A local legislator did try. Former state Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, did attempt in 2020 to shift the program’s oversight to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, in the hope it had the capacity to keep it on track. She also proposed setting up a legislative committee to monitor the program. Those good ideas went nowhere.

An exodus of employees from the paid leave program, allegations of discrimination in its ranks and an ensuing investigation could further complicate the rollout at a time when the pandemic has laid bare the massive need for parental and medical paid leave. Last April, an unidentified member of an advisory group to the paid leave program warned that delays in launching the program could adversely affect communities of color and lower income workers most in need of the benefits, according to meeting notes.

If the state’s current plans succeed, it will have taken Oregon 50 months from when lawmakers passed the paid family and medical leave legislation to begin paying benefits to Oregonians.

Maybe with the pandemic and the disruptions it caused there was little hope the program would launch on time. But legislators and Gov. Brown don’t appear to have done enough to try. The Oregonian’s article on this topic is worth reading if you have access: tinyurl.com/noORleave.

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