SACRAMENTO — Californians could take an additional two weeks of paid leave to care for a new baby or sick family member and could buy diapers and menstrual products tax-free under the revised budget plan that Gov. Gavin Newsom will unveil this week.
Newsom announced the paid leave and tax exemption proposals, as well as several other funding increases intended to benefit families, at a news conference Tuesday with the California Legislative Women's Caucus and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom. He said helping working parents afford the expense of raising children in California was a priority for his administration.
"Nothing more important we can do than support parents. Period. Full stop," the governor said.
When he took office in January, Newsom committed to expanding California's paid family leave program from six weeks of partial salary for each parent of a newborn or newly adopted child to six months per baby. Although he made it a centerpiece of his early agenda, his original budget proposal for fiscal 2019-20 did not include funding for the idea.
Under his revised plan, each parent or a close family member could take an additional two weeks of paid leave to bond with an infant beginning in July 2020, giving them four months total. The expansion would also cover leave to care for a seriously ill family member. The existing program provides workers with 60 to 70 percent of their salary during that time, paid for by a payroll tax on all workers in the state.
The state would fund the extra time off by reducing the minimum reserve it is required to maintain for the family leave program. A bill by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, that is moving through the Legislature would bar companies from firing workers who take the leave.
Newsom is proposing a task force to develop a plan that would get California to a full six months of paid leave by the 2021-22 fiscal year.
"There's no government programs that can substitute the time with a loved one," he said.
Eliminating the state sales tax on menstrual products, such as tampons and pads, and diapers has been a priority of the Legislative Women's Caucus for several years.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens (Los Angeles County), spearheaded the campaign against taxing menstrual products , which she calls an unfair expense for being a woman. She said Tuesday that the budget plan was "finally sending the message that our bodies are not a luxury."
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, pushed to get rid of the tax on diapers, which she said would save families $100 to $120 per year, enough to pay for an extra month of diapers.
Then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed both proposals in 2016 , saying it would be too big a hit to state revenues. The sales tax exemptions would collectively cost about $76 million a year.
Newsom, who noted that two of his four young children still wear diapers, said Tuesday that the change was "long overdue." He and Gonzalez subtly jabbed at his predecessor, who married later in life and did not have children.
"I cannot tell you the frustration that we've been through in trying to explain this to people that have never bought diapers," Gonzalez said.
Newsom added, "Had you not had kids, perhaps you can intellectualize it. But boy, I can tell you, I don't care how well you're doing, it hits the pocketbook for families."
Other changes Newsom plans to recommend in his revised budget proposal, which the governor will announce Thursday, include $80 million for new subsidized child care slots, funded by tax revenue from marijuana sales, and an expansion of a tax credit for the working poor.
That program, known as the earned income tax credit, allows filers to claim up to nearly $3,000 annually, depending on the number of children they have. Newsom proposed in January to raise the income ceiling for eligibility and give families with a child younger than 6 years old an extra $500 annually.
Now the governor wants to double that bonus to an extra $1,000. He has suggested making changes to California's business tax code to conform with the 2017 federal tax overhaul as a way of paying for the tax credits, which would triple to $1.2 billion annually.
Newsom plans to keep proposals to raise welfare grants, take steps toward universal preschool and provide additional financial aid to college students with children in his revised budget plan. By law, the Legislature must pass a spending plan by June 15.
On Tuesday, the governor called himself a "proud feminist" and credited his wife — whom the Newsom administration refers to as the state's "first partner" — for pushing him to support public policies that recognize the value of caregiving.
"Guys, yeah, pay attention, listen, learn," Newsom said. "Don't take things for granted. This is real, and we need to attach ourselves to addressing this issue as well."
Democratic Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino (San Bernardino County), who chairs the Legislative Women's Caucus, said, "We are so lucky to have a governor who gets these issues, and a first partner that, if maybe he doesn't get it, I'll bet she can give him a little nudge and let him know."
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