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Early childhood committee advances paid family and medical leave bill

House Photography file photo

Struggling to be both a breadwinner and caretaker? A proposal currently before lawmakers aims to reduce that conflict.

Sponsored by Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights), HF1200 would establish a state-run insurance program to partially reimburse lost wages for workers taking medical or family leave.

The House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill 8-5 along party lines Tuesday and referred it to House State Government Finance Committee. The companion, SF1205, awaits action by the Senate Labor and Industry Policy Committee. Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury) is the sponsor.

“The program is modeled after our state’s unemployment insurance benefit program and would provide a much-needed safety net for families in order to be able to take critical time for bonding with new children, and to also allow families to be able to respond if they are faced with the illness of a little one,” Richardson said.

Richardson said it’s needed because current leave programs are inconsistent and there are disparities among those who have access to leave and those who do not. “We need policies that promote time for parents and caregivers to care and bond with their infants and toddlers without jeopardizing the ability to meet their basic needs.”

How the plan would work

The bill would provide partial wage replacement for up to 12 weeks per year for a worker’s own serious health condition, and up to 12 weeks per year for care of a family member, said Debra Fitzpatrick, director of policy and legislative affairs at the Children’s Defense Fund.

Most employers and workers would be required to contribute funds based on their wages. For example, for a median worker earning around $52,000 per year, it would cost approximately $3 per employer and employee per week. Employers could opt-out if they administer private plans that provide equal or better benefits than those required by the bill.

The leave benefits would be portable, meaning it’s not attached to a specific job or a specific employer, which would be particularly helpful to those who are self-employed or gig workers, Fitzpatrick said. 

While it would provide for up to 24 weeks of paid leave, data show that workers most often use fewer weeks then the maximum allowed, she said. Also, the vast majority of workers use the program for only one leave over multiple years.

Support and opposition

Supporters of the proposal note positive outcomes associated with maternity and paternity leave, such as increases in breastfeeding and on-time vaccinations, as well as reductions in infant hospitalization, lower maternal and infant morbidity and mortality rates, and reductions in maternal postpartum depression.

Early childhood committee debates paid family and medical leave bill 02/23/21

“Nobody should have to choose between the well-being of their child and their job,” said Jessica Peterson White, owner of Content Bookstore in Northfield.

Republicans had questions about the sustainability of the cost model and what impacts it would have on the affordability of child care.

Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) said this new tax may not be affordable to all employers and employees, and opposed the idea that the premium rates could be increased exponentially over time.

“That there is no ceiling or floor on premium rates is extremely concerning,” she said. “Another Legislature could come in and raise those rates.”

The issue of affordability was also raised in a letter submitted by the United for Jobs coalition, signed off on by many businesses and organizations. The group opposes the proposal saying a mandated paid leave policy would be costly for employers and employees and, “If enacted, Minnesota would have the most expensive mandates in terms of eligibility, qualifying events, benefits and employer obligation.” 

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