Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Family Economic Security > It’s past time for paid family and medical leave

It’s past time for paid family and medical leave

Washington State is better than Vermont. Well, on one measure anyway: paid family and medical leave.

This month Washington became the fifth state to enact a paid family and medical leave program, offering up to 12 weeks of time off to care for a new child or a sick family member, or to take care of personal health issues. The program is paid for through an insurance program funded by both employees and employers.

Washington’s program is similar to the one proposed by the Family and Medical Leave Coalition in Vermont last session. The Vermont proposal, driven by an analysis released by the Vermont Women’s Commission, advocated for 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child, a sick family member, or the worker’s own health problem. The program would also work on an insurance model – everyone pays in, but you utilize it only when you need it. Both employers and employees would pay into the insurance fund, but its use would not be tied to a particular job.

The Vermont House passed a pared-down version of this proposal last session, and the Senate may take it up in 2018. The House version limited the leave to six weeks, placed the cost entirely onto employees (leaving out employers), and removed the benefit for the worker’s own illness.

While six weeks may be better than no paid leave at all, it falls well short of Washington State’s 12 weeks. And even 12 weeks is a modest benefit: The average paid parental leave among the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development is 52 weeks. Numerous studies show that longer leaves lead to better results for both parents and children, and help the economy by keeping women in the workforce, reducing the need for public assistance, and reducing health care costs for parents and children.

What accounts for the resistance to something that more than 70 percent of Vermonters support? Money, of course. A big hurdle in the House was the cost to the state for its own employees, as well as the costs of the system’s administration. On top of that was Governor Scott’s threat to veto anything that would raises taxes even a penny – never mind that most Vermonters want it and are willing to chip in for it.

Vermont won’t be first on this issue. But we can follow Washington’s lead – offering at least 12 weeks, covering workers’ own health conditions, and sharing the costs between employees and employers. It would be good for workers, for families, and for the Vermont economy.

Posted by Stephanie Yu on July 25, 2017 at 4:33 pm

One Response to “It’s past time for paid family and medical leave”

  1. Wendell Coleman says:


    Your concern about the VT House bill charging only employees and not employers is interesting. It reminds me of listening to my father complain years ago that is was claimed that social security was paid 50/50 by employer and employee, but really the employer paid it all because the business had to generate the money. I shrugged and okay, but I can make an equally good argument that the employee pays it all. I don’t remember if I did so or not. I knew he was in no mood to listen. Fast forward to two or three years ago and I was listening to an economics course from the Great Courses (formerly the Teaching Company). This very question was part of one lecture, and in a survey of many economists, most said social security was paid almost entirely by employees. This was in spite of the fact that the course was taught by a professor who, to me, seemed to be siding mostly with business.

    I can give you the argument, but I doubt that I need to. I expect you all ready know it or can rapidly figure it out.


    Wendell Coleman