Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Family Economic Security > Family and medical leave needs to work for families

Family and medical leave needs to work for families

A family and medical leave program should make juggling work and caregiving easier for families. The House bill (H.107) passed in early April would do that through wage-replacement and job protection for employees who are out of work due to a new baby, or for unexpected personal or family medical needs. But the Senate version cuts back these benefits to workers and their families. Focused on decreasing the program cost, the Senate plan undermines the bill’s intent: supporting families. 

Family and medical leave is an insurance plan that relies on payroll contributions. To whittle the contribution from the House’s .55 percent of payroll to .2 percent, the Senate cut back on benefits that are the reason for workers to take leave in the first place: a worker’s own health issue, allowing both parents to bond with a new child, and caring for a sick family member. These cuts would reduce the payroll contribution by a mere 30 cents a day for a minimum wage worker, or less than $80 a year.

First, the Senate eliminated the ability of workers to receive benefits for their own medical leave. An analysis based on other state programs shows that this is the most common reason workers use paid family leave programs. Without this benefit a Vermont worker will continue to face the financial uncertainty of a personal health crisis.

Second, bonding leave with a new child is capped at 12 weeks, shared by both parents. In a two-parent household, the mother who is recovering from childbirth will most likely take this needed leave. The House plan provides each parent with 12 weeks of leave, so both parents could spend time with their new child. This has been shown to increase male participation in household responsibilities, women’s participation in the labor force, and gender equity. The House’s plan would also relieve pressure on an already strained childcare system where infant slots are the most expensive and the hardest to find.

Finally, the Senate’s version adds language that puts higher value on some family members. Benefits are reduced if your sibling or grandparent is sick, but not if it’s your parent or child. This undermines the employee’s ability to determine when and for whom caregiving is necessary and makes the insurance more difficult to track and administer.

Personal medical leave, gender equity, and family choice are lost for meager savings. The result is a more complicated insurance program benefiting fewer people.

As the House and Senate negotiate, legislators need to refocus on the goals of family and medical leave and pass a bill that equitably supports working families.

Posted by Julie Lowell on May 17, 2019 at 2:37 pm

Comments are closed.