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Governor Kathy Hochul and legislators disagreed over New York’s disability cap



New York – At the beginning of this session, it appeared that the Legislature and Governor Kathy Hochul had come to a consensus on modernizing the state’s short-term Temporary Disability Insurance program for workers who are unable to work because of illness, pregnancy, or non-work-related injuries.

It has been 35 years since TDI, or paid medical leave, increased to a maximum compensation of $170 per week. Legislative leaders decided in January that it had to be raised, but at the last minute, Hochul sought to cut the benefit to 20% of an employee’s average weekly income for the second half of the 26-week program, so it was taken out of the state’s $237 billion budget.

“That’s quite offensive to workers,” Assembly Labor Committee chair Harry Bronson told Spectrum News 1. “It suggests that they’re milking the system taking advantage of the system. That’s not the case at all, so we really wouldn’t go there.”

A bill sponsored by Bronson would raise the disability cap beyond the budget to 50% of the employee’s average weekly salary, with a four-year rise to 67%. An increase would not have an effect on state finances because the employee and employer split the cost of the benefit.
This week, a number of parliamentarians vowed to work hard to reach a settlement with the Second Floor and complete the task before the session ends on June 6.

“This is one of those issues where, if you are not in need of temporary disability insurance, you may not be aware of how much it impacts your daily life,” Sen. Jeremy Cooney said Wednesday. “But if you need the benefit and you can’t pay your rent, you can’t feed your family, that’s a real challenge that needs to be fixed.”

New Yorkers can take time off work for long-term treatments, like cancer or pregnancy, thanks to the paid medical leave program. Pregnancy-related disability claims make up about 30% of all claims.

Legislators, however, said that they will pursue further policies to assist employees who are not covered by the present paid medical leave scheme.

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar is carrying a bill that would allow women who give birth to a stillborn child to receive 12 weeks of paid time off as part of the expanded Paid Family Leave program for state employees.

“Either one of these tracks will help these women,” said Rajkumar, a Queens Democrat. “It’s really a drop in the bucket in terms of cost — we’re talking about 1,400 women a year only. We all know someone who have gone through this tragedy and we can’t let them go through it alone.”

Both parties have endorsed the ideas, and legislators have stated that they wish to unite behind one of the fixes to ensure that workers receive assistance as soon as possible.
When asked why the governor approved a lower TDI benefit in the program’s second half, Hochul’s office representatives refused to comment.

“Gov. Hochul’s Executive Budget included a major expansion of New York’s paid medical leave benefits – the first of its kind in nearly four decades,” governor’s spokesperson Justin Henry said in a statement Wednesday. “The governor is committed to putting more money in the pockets of New Yorkers, particularly in their time of need, and will review legislation if it passes in both houses of the Legislature.”

In order to assist expectant New Yorkers and lower the state’s higher than average maternal death rate, the Legislature is still working on more laws.
Jonah, the son of Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn, passed away seven years ago at the age of twenty-two and a half weeks. The assemblywoman from Brooklyn also described her bedridden recovery following a cesarean operation. She is advocating for legislation that will expand funding for doula services and postpartum depression.

“There’s so many things we’re looking at to expand to make the pregnant journey for women more safe and more comprehensive,” she said.

Further research is necessary and is probably going to be done on a proposal to require insurance coverage for medical illnesses that cause preterm labor in the upcoming year.