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key takeaway

California was the first state to offer paid family leave, but workers cannot apply for benefits until after they have already started their leave, causing financial hardship.

California was the first state in the country to offer paid family leave for its workers, acknowledging the importance of giving workers paid time off to care for their loved ones or bond with a new child. Since then, 12 other states and Washington, D.C. have followed California’s lead. Despite California being the first to pass paid family leave, workers in the state cannot apply for benefits until after they have already started their leave. This may put workers in a distressing financial situation while navigating care for their loved ones. By allowing workers to apply for paid family leave before their leave has begun, policymakers can better serve Californians.

How does paid family leave in California work?

Under California’s paid family leave and state disability insurance programs, workers receive partial wage replacement when they are unable to work for various reasons. Paid family leave is available to workers who are caring for a seriously ill or injured family member, bonding with a new child, or addressing a military exigency. State disability insurance is available to individuals who are unable to work due to an injury or illness. Both benefits are fully worker-funded through a payroll tax. However, a worker cannot apply for their benefits until they have first started unpaid leave and their qualifying life event has already occurred. In other words, a worker has to stop working without confirmation of if they will receive pay and benefits, and without confirmation of how much money they will get.

For example, a worker who qualifies for paid family leave because they have welcomed a new child or who qualifies for state disability insurance to recover from their own serious health condition, including pregnancy, must first take unpaid leave from their job before they can apply for paid family leave or state disability insurance. They will not know if they will get approved, they will not receive pay, and they will need to apply for benefits while at the same time welcoming their new child. This leaves workers in a precarious situation where they must go days and sometimes weeks without pay at a time when they need it most.

This is especially harmful for workers with low incomes, who are disproportionately women and people of color, who face the impossible decision of going days or weeks without pay or taking time off to care for an ill loved one or a new child. For many workers, taking time off of their job without confirmation of benefits is not an option, as workers face expenses that they cannot cover without regular income. This makes workers less likely to take leave, which can have serious consequences to their health.

What are other states doing?

Some states are leading the way in this area and have addressed this gap in policy to ensure that all workers have equal access to paid family and medical leave and no one has to face these impossible choices. Out of the 14 states and D.C. that offer paid family and medical leave, eight allow workers to apply for benefits before their qualifying event happens, meaning they are not forced to take unpaid leave without confirmation of knowing if they will receive any benefits at all. This allows workers to mitigate their risk and reduce their stress during already demanding situations.

What can state leaders do to better support workers in California?

While California was a trailblazer in 2002 when it enacted the first paid family leave law in the country, it has now fallen behind. Workers should not have to take unpaid time off when they pay into and are eligible for benefits. It is time for California to catch up and give workers the security they deserve by letting them apply early for their benefits.

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California was home to over 11 million immigrants in 2023, making up 28% of the state population — the largest percentage of immigrant residents of any state.

Immigrants are essential to California’s labor force, with a total of 6.1 million immigrants employed in California from 2021 to 2023, representing 1 in 3 workers in the state. Immigrants and children of immigrants made up over half of all California workers during this same period. In addition, nearly half (45%) of working households in California included immigrants in 2023.

Immigrants are vital in creating the vibrant, prosperous communities and strong workforce that propelled California into becoming the fifth largest economy in the world. Recognizing the invaluable cultural and economic wealth immigrants bring to the state, policymakers should continue ending immigration status exclusions from our safety net programs to ensure all Californians have access to the supports they need to thrive.

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key takeaway

While domestic and sexual violence disproportionately affects women, transgender, non-binary, and women of color, prevention programs that address root causes like gender and racial inequities can significantly improve safety for all Californians.

All Californians should be able to live in safe environments, free from violence and fear. However, millions of Californians experience domestic and sexual violence every year and women, transgender, non-binary, and women of color are most likely to experience these types of violence.

Domestic and sexual violence prevention programs are proven ways to stop violence from occurring in the first place. Prevention programs take a proactive approach and seek to shift culture on racial and gender inequities. Examples of prevention work include educating people on healthy relationships, increasing economic security for families, and reducing systems and beliefs that can lead to violence. These programs have been shown to:

  • Improve the safety of school and community spaces,
  • Lead to significant community and structural changes,
  • Lead to sexual violence prevention being added to school district budgets,
  • Make physical spaces safer in order to reduce vulnerability to sexual violence,
  • Increase student conversations about sexual violence as a problem,
  • Reduce dating abuse, and
  • Result in substantial cost savings due to reductions in sexual violence-related costs.

How does California support domestic and sexual violence prevention?

Since 2018, California has provided small, one-time grants for prevention programs. The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) administers multiple grants with this one-time funding to support prevention efforts. There are also some federal funds available for prevention, but the large majority of federal funding for addressing domestic and sexual violence is for intervention only, and in fact, is prohibited from being used for prevention efforts. Despite domestic and sexual violence prevention’s proven effectiveness, state funding is relatively new and has been sporadic.

What organizations have received state prevention funding?

Many organizations across the state have received state funding in the form of Cal OES prevention grants. These grants are focused on supporting community-based organizations in the implementation of domestic and sexual violence prevention and education initiatives, especially those that focus on serving communities that are disproportionately impacted. Examples of organizations that have been able to increase their prevention efforts because of the state funding are described below.


Special thank you to Korean American Family Services, Project Sister Family Services, and Rainbow Services for providing the information included in these examples.

How has state prevention funding impacted what services organizations can provide?

Dedicated prevention funding has a meaningful impact on communities. Perspectives from these organizations demonstrate how funding has supported the services that can be provided.

What would happen without ongoing domestic violence prevention funding?

Each organization recognized that their important work, which supports survivors and helps prevent domestic violence, is at the peril of sporadic state funding. Organizations describe how without these grants, they would not have any prevention funding to continue sustaining these programs.

  • Both Project Sister and Rainbow Services explained how they are not able to do more ongoing prevention education due to a lack of ongoing funding, and that the sustainability of current programs relies on the state’s grants.
  • KFAM shared that the only prevention funding they have is from the Cal OES grants. Although there is much more funding provided for intervention efforts, prevention grants allowed them to be more creative with programs to prevent violence in the first place, rather than only supporting survivors afterward.

Domestic and sexual violence prevention efforts take time. These programs work on shifting culture, which takes long-term planning and commitment. However, as the organizations in the examples all noted, organizations doing this critical work cannot commit to long term programming without permanent, ongoing funding. The governor’s proposed 2024-25 budget does not include any additional funding for domestic violence prevention, which puts these programs providing critical domestic violence prevention services at risk for termination.

No Californian should live in fear over their safety. In order to adequately protect Californians from domestic and sexual violence, the state should provide ongoing, sustained funding for prevention programs that can help stop the violence before it starts.

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key takeaway

California’s unemployment benefits fall short, leaving many struggling to make ends meet when they lose work. State policymakers can raise unemployment benefits, ensuring this crucial support system adequately sustains Californians during job loss.

Unemployment benefits provide a critical safety net for many workers who lose their jobs, helping them to support their families while they seek to reenter the workforce. However, state unemployment benefits have not been raised in two decades and currently don’t provide enough money for Californians – particularly those with low incomes – to cover the cost of living. This points to the urgent need for California to increase state unemployment benefits so that workers can make ends meet when they lose work.

California’s unemployment benefits only replace up to half of a worker’s lost earnings. But many workers struggle to pay for food and rent even while working full-time. Covering the costs of living on half of their earnings is impossible. For the majority of California renters with low incomes who spend at least half of their income on rent, their entire unemployment benefit would go to rent if they don’t have other income sources. Or it might not even cover the full cost of rent, leaving them in debt, at risk of eviction, and with nothing left over to pay for other basic needs. For example, a worker who loses a full-time minimum wage job (at $16.90-per-hour in Los Angeles County) receives just $1,465 in monthly unemployment benefits, which falls $69 short of covering rent for a studio in Los Angeles.

Workers of color, including American Indian, Black, Latinx, and Pacific Islander Californians – and particularly women – are especially at risk of being unable to support their families while out of work because many have been segregated into low-paying jobs where unemployment benefits are too low to cover basic living costs. Insufficient benefits pose a particularly significant threat to the economic security of Black Californians, who consistently face twice the unemployment rate of white workers due to hiring discrimination and other barriers to work created through centuries of structural racism.

Losing a job would be less devastating if Californians could count on getting unemployment benefits that allow them to cover the costs of rent, food, and other basic needs while they search for work. State lawmakers should increase state unemployment benefits, especially for low-paid workers, and make sure that businesses uphold their responsibility to adequately fund this critical safety net for their workforce.

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