KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.
In the United States, one in four mothers return to work just two weeks after giving birth. That’s actually the national average of paid parental leave. Two weeks is not a long time. But with a new state program, parents may get more paid time off to bond with their baby. Washington state voters passed a law in 2017 that would implement a Paid Family and Medical Leave program. This program officially started at the beginning of 2020 and it applies to all workers in Washington.
For two moms in the music industry, this program is helping them with the start of their kids’ lives — in very different ways.
Vanessa Resler — aka Baby Van Beezly — is a DJ at Queer Bar on Capitol Hill, where she also hosts drag karaoke. Though, her bread-and-butter these days is DJing weddings and corporate events. She is currently pregnant with her second child.
Before spinning and singing was her full-time job, Vanessa was a CPA, which she hated. But it felt like the stability of a corporate job was required for starting a family. So, when she was pregnant with her first child, she took a job she hated.
Vanessa says she did this, “because I was so concerned about the logistics of being an artist and raising kids. And I was like, oh, was that practical? Is that smart? So I took on a day job I didn’t like. And the medical insurance was great. Paid time off was great. But this thing I loved that was always riding the background…I didn't want to be the kind of role model to my kid that's like, well, you just do what's practical. When it really in my head, all I wanted to be doing was playing music.”
When her daughter was two, Vanessa couldn’t take it anymore. She had to follow her heart and start DJing full-time.
“I took the leap. It was terrifying, but it paid off huge. It was like six months later, like all my income was already back to what it was when I was salaried just doing my love,” Vanessa says.
While she was making the same amount of money, she still wouldn’t have the same benefits she had at her corporate job. So when she got pregnant with her second child she thought she’d need to save a lot of money in order to be able to take time off to care for her baby. Her maternity leave would just be a savings account. But then at an emo show she puts on called “I’m Not Okay” one of her regulars asked if she knew about Washington state’s new Paid Family Leave program.
“She works for MomsRising. And she said, ‘Hey, this is like my passion to get people to use this program.’ I was completely blown away. I'm so stoked to hear that I could get help in this department, so I don't have to burn through savings and start over again,” Vanessa says.
Starting all over again is especially hard in our growing gig economy. Many jobs are seasonal and can be feast or famine. To qualify for Paid Family and Medical Leave in 2020, you have to have just worked 820 hours in 2019. That’s about 16 hours a week for the full year. And that can be for one, two, three — any amount of employers. And those employers don’t have to be of a certain size either. No Washington employer can opt out of the program. Well, actually, one can — the federal government. You can’t tell them what to do. But beyond that, all companies of all sizes are participating, so however you put together a paycheck, you can also put together a family!
“This program is a complete lifesaver,” Vanessa says. “I mean, I know how it's affecting me personally, but I'm just thinking about everyone that works hourly. Like baristas, tattoo artists, all these people that that aren't like doing the corporate nine-to-five getting the benefits package. Like what are they supposed to do? This saves all of us.”
Vanessa is able to retroactively pay into the program. As a self-employed contractor, she’ll have to pay into the program for at least three years. But because of this new Paid Family Leave Law she’ll be able to take four months off to take care of her new child. She will be paid for this time, but not at a full-rate. But before this program, Vanessa wouldn’t have been able to take any paid time off. It really was something reserved for parents who worked at companies.
But this program is not just for freelancers. It is also helping parents working full-time at companies and even helping some of those companies.
Rachel Ratner is a software engineer at her tech day job. She also plays guitar and sings for the band Wimps. In 2019, Rachel played a handful of shows pregnant, balancing her guitar on her baby bump belly. The last show being when she was eight months pregnant.
Today, Rachel is balancing her daughter Hazel on her lap in her living room, enjoying the last days of her paid family leave. At her tech company, Rachel was able to take four months, fully paid for maternity leave.
“I'm so thankful that my job gave me paid leave. I know so many people that don't have that. And the way my company is doing it, they're kind of supplementing it with the state leave. So the state is paying a percentage and then they're kind of topping it off to get to my full salary, which is awesome,” Rachel says.
Rachel was able to take her employer’s parental leave benefits after her baby was born. But now that the program has gone into effect, if anything happens to Hazel now in 2020 — getting sick, needing to go to doctor’s appointments, or anything like that — Rachel will be able to claim Paid Family Leave to get fully-paid time off for times when she needs to take a day off to care for her kid. She doesn’t have to use her works’ PTO.
Rachel has been a full-time mom for these past months. Once she gets into the swing of her new balance of working and mom-ing, Rachel will add music making back into the mix.
“I'm breastfeeding [Hazel] every three hours and I don't have a lot of time to do music the way I want to,” Rachel says. “So I have tons of ideas I've written down, but I haven't had more than 20 minutes to myself to shower. Like we have like a whole idea for like an EP about like parenting and stuff like that. And when there’s time to do it, I'll do it. But I don’t have the physical time to be able to do it.”
Washington’s Paid Family Leave program should be in full-swing, helping freelancers and company workers alike, but there have been some roadblocks. If you applied when the program when it first started, there was an estimated wait time of two weeks until you were notified if you were accepted into the program. But the state has been inundated with applications. They saw 30,000 applications in just six weeks. Now that wait time to know if you’ve been accepted into the program could be up to 10 weeks, which some parents are saying is too long to wait when you’re planning for parental leave.
Since these interviews, Vanessa has had her baby — a little boy named Freddie. She’s already back on the turn-tables, playing music in her home, while Freddie is strapped to her chest.
Rachel is back at work at her tech job and her mother has moved to Seattle to help care for Hazel, which Rachel says is a huge help for their family.
For as many ways as there are to make a living in Seattle, there seems to be just as many to start and care for a family. Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave is helping these two Seattle moms put it all together.
The recording engineer’s work is highlighted on a new Light in the Attic compilation titled Kearney Barton: Architect of the Northwest Sound.
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