New York bill to allow paid family leave for stillbirth mothers stalls in legislature
A group of women in New York are vowing to keep up the fight to get a bill through the New York State legislature allowing women who suffer a stillbirth to receive paid family leave, after the bill stalled just before the legislature’s summer recess.
“We have talked with dozens and dozens of lawmakers, and there has literally not been one objection to closing the gap to protect NY’s stillbirth parents,” said Samantha Banerjee, executive director of PUSH for Empowered Pregnancy – one of the group’s spearheading the bill. “The only pushback we’ve received is from a very small handful of policy wonks and purists who insist that the ‘intention’ of Paid Family Leave is only to care for others, not for yourself.”
In 2021, there were 1,285 babies born stillborn in New York State, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Mothers of stillborn babies are permitted to use disability to pay for their time off from work to recover, but weekly disability payments are only allowed up to $170 compared to the maximum $1,131 offered under New York State Paid Family Leave.
The bill passed unanimously in the senate in March and was expected to pass the assembly until concerns arose and a different bill emerged.
The bill provides for women who suffer a stillbirth to receive disability benefits for pregnancy loss up to 67% of their weekly wage.
“When the assembly said to us we can do this not just for stillbirths mom, but for everyone, we said, great, like, we’re down for that, as long as it will pass,” Banerjee said.
But, that’s when everything stalled, Banerjee said.
“At the very last minute, when we’re staring down the finish line, that victory’s getting ripped out of our hands,” Banerjee said.
Eyewitness News obtained a letter sent from the Life Insurance Council of New York to the legislature in January urging legislators not to incorporate stillbirth into the PFL program.
“By adding ‘to recover after a stillbirth’ to the coverage provided by PFL, this bill fundamentally changes the nature of New York’s PFL program,” the letter states.
The letter, instead, encourages the legislators to approve an entirely different bill
, which would increase the maximum weekly benefit for statutory disability to put it on par with the paid family leave program.
“It ensures those recovering from a stillbirth (and many others suffering off-the-job injury or illness) have adequate resources to heal after their life-altering loss,” the letter states.
Cassidy Perrone has been the driving force behind the stillborn bill.
In 2022, at 36 weeks of pregnancy, she gave birth to a stillborn baby girl.
“The very next day I received a call from my current employer stating that New York had reached out to let me know that my previously approved paid family leave application was being revoked because the baby had died,” Perrone said.
Eyewitness News also spoke with Jennifer Cherney, of the Upper West Side, who said fellow teachers and staff at her school pitched in their vacation and sick time to allow Cherney to have six weeks of paid time off after she gave birth to a stillborn baby in 2021.
“I don’t think it’s fair that one of the first questions you have to ask after this is, ‘Now, what do I do to your work? What is covered? Do I have to go back?'” she said. “It shouldn’t even have to be a question.”
Dr. Uma Reddy, a high-risk OBGYN at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, supports the stillbirth bill.”
“It’s not just being compassionate or giving bereavement time,” she said. “It’s about improving maternal health and outcomes.”
Reddy said mothers who give birth to stillbirth babies should not have to go back to work right away in order to make ends meet.
“They need to heal and recover completely,” she said. “The better they’re supported during this period, it will make an impact if they decide to pursue future pregnancy.”
Eyewitness News reached out several times to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office about the status of both bills related to stillbirth and pregnancy loss. They have not gotten back to us.