Coalition proposes statewide family and medical leave insurance

Madeleine Kunin
Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

A coalition of 17 nonprofit organizations and business groups says Vermont should guarantee paid family and medical leave to all employees.

The Family and Medical Leave Insurance Coalition is led by the Main Street Alliance and Voices for Vermont’s Children and includes Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

The group wants to allow new mothers and fathers to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off to be with newborn babies or sick relatives. The proposal would also serve as a short-term disability program for workers.

“We’ve been talking about paid family medical leave since 1964,” said Cary Brown, the executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women, a state agency that was created in 1964 to advocate for women’s issues.

Brown said women in Vermont are often forced to go back to work days after they give birth, and when the children get older, they try to build up their sick days at work in case they need to take time off to take care of them.

She said that some women choose to leave the workforce altogether after giving birth because it is the only way they can take enough time off to take care of the baby. Taking that time off contributes to women making less pay than men for the same jobs, Brown said.

Lindsay DesLauriers, the state director of Main Street Alliance, said the financial details of the proposal would depend on the results of a feasibility study the Vermont Commission on Women is performing with a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The study could be published as early as January. DesLauriers suggested that the 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave could be funded with a 1-percent or lower payroll tax spread between businesses and workers.

The money would go into a statewide fund that would be managed similarly to unemployment insurance, which pays unemployed workers 50 percent of what they were making at their job, up to a maximum benefit of $436 per week for 26 weeks.

As an example, DesLauriers cited a 2013 report that said Vermont could use a one-half-percent payroll tax to pay workers 100 percent of the wages they were making at their job, with the maximum benefit equal to around $25 per hour for 6 weeks of leave.

The coalition says that the funding model is similar to what has been passed in four other states — California, Rhode Island, New Jersey and New York. Those states will allow between four weeks of family leave and 52 weeks of medical leave with either the worker funding the whole tax, or splitting it with the employer.

The 1993 Family Medical Leave Act provides certain employees across the country with up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave. The main difference between the federal law and the Vermont proposal is getting paid during that time off.

“Unpaid family leave means you either go straight back to work because you can’t afford to miss a paycheck, not with all the bills coming in for childbirth, for medical, for childcare … or you don’t go back to work and you’re poor as a result,” said Gov. Madeleine Kunin.

Kunin said families who have access to paid family leave are less reliant on welfare and more likely to work after a child is born. She said paid family leave would also help raise family income because two parents in the same family could remain the workforce.

Kunin said there are only a handful of countries in the world that don’t provide paid family leave, including Somalia and Papua New Guinea. She pointed to her daughter-in-law in Montreal who will get a year of paid family and medical leave when she has her baby.

“I think we can take a lesson. It’s not controversial there. It’s controversial here, but it shouldn’t be,” Kunin said.

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  • Asher McLean

    I think the controversy is whether or not we can afford another 1% tax in a state with an aging population, a deteriorating middle class, and one of the highest tax burdens in the country.

    Proponents might say that this will attract young families, but the big question is if those families will be paying more into the system than they take.

  • Carl Werth

    Has anyone put any thought into REDUCING the tax burden (either federal or state) a family has to pay so that they can afford to live reasonably well on what ONE parent makes – you know, such that one of the parents (either the mother OR the father) of a new born can stay home with the newborn child for 3 months, a year, 12 years – whatever time is appropriate?

    Perhaps we can take some of the BILLION$ spent on negative campaign ads to accomplish this?

  • Peter Everett

    If the government gets involved it will become cost prohibitive. If done by the private,sector, it may succeed. Keep government out of our pockets…please!!!

  • Bruce Wilkie

    Another tax-how fabulous. Pretty soon our entire direct deposit salary will be direct deposited into a Vt. Dept. of Taxes account

  • I have zero interest in supporting even more people who cannot afford to have a family. For a state that is so interested in reducing carbon footprint, it’s surprising there is no focus on people who choose to not have children. I also wonder why the people who pick up the slack while new parents are out of work get nothing.

  • Jamie Carter

    I personally think it is a great idea to allow both mother AND father to be able to take some time with their newborn child. The bond that forms initially is critical in the long term. A 1% tax isn’t unreasonable considering the benefits.

    That said… there is no room for a 1% tax currently. Vermonters just can’t afford it. The spending that has occurred and been promoted over the past 6 years has put Vermont in a place that we can no longer afford to add programs, regardless of their merit because we have wasted our money and resources on fool’s errands.

    This proposal should absolutely be written into law and passed… and should be paid for by eliminating other programs or reductions in funding. If schools simply increased staffing ratios by 1. Just by moving from a 4:1 ratio to a 5:1 ratio we could give parents that time to spend with their newborn. Or maybe we reduce food stamps where free school lunch is provided and use that savings. There are options

  • It is never enough for these organizations. Didn’t they just champion the paid sick day law last year? Now they want 12 WEEKS of paid family leave paid for with another payroll tax.

    I echo what another post says below…should we just turn over our entire paycheck when received?

    Enough is enough.

  • David White

    I have an idea. If you can’t afford to have a baby, then don’t have one.

  • David Parot

    I think we should put in place a 1% asset tax on all 4,000 maybe more non profits in the State. Next we put a 1% tax on all non profit payroll. Next do away with most non profit’s 15 paid holiday’s. Also all non profit health insurance for employees would have to enroll in Vermont Health Connect and significant savings will be realized there. Also while I was thinking about it a 1% income tax on all monies taken in by non profits would be great as well. Well we just found a quick 160 million . And if you can’t afford to have children don’t have them. The earned income tax credit and per child tax credit should be done away with also, it only benefits certain segments of society. I think I read somewhere about equal taxation something er other. Our State budget has doubled in 10 years enough is enough.

  • Todd Morris

    Does anyone care about the impact on employers who would be without the employee for 12 weeks? I cannot wait to leave this state. I’ve completely given up any hope for reasonable solutions