SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington's new paid family and medical leave program received a large volume of applications in its first three weeks.
The result: longer than expected wait times.
Since the program's launch in January, the state received more than 20,000 applications. That is significantly more than what the Employment Security Department (ESD) projected.
Now, the agency is scrambling to catch up with the high demand.
The program gives eligible people up to 12 weeks paid leave to care for themselves, a family member or to bond with a new child in the family.
Washington State's Commissioner of the ESD, Suzi LeVine, is apologizing for the hardships families are experiencing by not getting their benefits sooner.
She said the demand speaks to the need for such a program in our state.
Spokane dad, Geoff Lieb, is currently on leave through his employer with his 4-month-old daughter, Hannah.
"I just feel like it makes me a better dad," Lieb said. "It sort of gives my wife some piece of mind. Because it's always hard--my daughter is four and a half months now, and it's hard to put them in a daycare when they're so young."
Lieb said he got lucky with his employer offering benefits similar to the state.
He previously took some time off with their first child, Gabby, who is now 4-years-old. But at that time, there were no financial benefits, just FMLA, which was unpaid leave.
"I would definitely do this no matter what," Lieb said. "It's just the financial stuff, you have bills to pay and that's the hardest thing about it. I really appreciate and I hope this becomes a national thing."
The state is working to make it up to those affected by the delay by paying applicants retroactively to the date of their leave, not when their application is approved.
It's also addressing the high demand by adding staff and looking at ways to simplify processing.
Applicants are also being asked to check their approval status online instead of calling.
If you have not applied yet, the state asks you go over the application check list.