House bill would create Vermont family and medical leave insurance program

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House bill would create Vermont family and medical leave insurance program

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 1:42pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Representatives Matt Trieber (D-Bellows Falls), Sam Young (D-Glover) and Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D-Bradford) will file a bill today that would create a statewide family and medical leave insurance program for all working Vermonters. The insurance plan would be separate from insurance one has from an employer. The bill has more than 40 cosponsors, including House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, Assistant Majority Leader Tristan Toleno, and Deputy Assistant Majority Leader Emily Long, as well as five committee chairs. The proposal would give Vermonters up to 12 weeks of paid, job-protected leave to welcome a new child or care for a seriously ill loved one or themselves.

“Vermont is a small business state and, as a state, we compete with other larger cities and states for talented workers,” said Trieber. “A statewide family and medical leave insurance program would give Vermont's small businesses a leg up in attracting and retaining young professionals and families to live here -- giving Vermont a competitive advantage over our neighbors in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, for example. This is a smart economic development strategy, targeting support to small business, that will help build a healthy Vermont economy.”

February 5 marks the 24th anniversary of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Current federal and state laws allow certain eligible employees to take unpaid leave to care for a new child or recover from illness or injury. However, many cannot take leave when they need it because it would mean sacrificing a paycheck. Only 11 percent of workers across the US have access to paid family leave through their employer, and fewer than 40 percent have access to paid personal medical leave.

California, New Jersey and Rhode Island already have state-administered programs in place, and New York’s law is set to go into effect in 2018. Employers in states with family and medical leave programs have reported either no impacts or positive impacts to their business -- through reduced turnover and higher morale -- because of these programs. Main Street Alliance of Vermont has a coalition of more than 120 Vermont small business owner members who support state efforts to establish a family and medical leave insurance program for all Vermont workers.  A coalition of 25 organizations led by Voices for Vermont’s Children and the Main Street Alliance of Vermont also supports the proposed statewide insurance plan.

“As a small employer, it can be incredibly difficult to provide my employees with everything they need,” said Carrie Simmons, Owner of New Ground Creative in Brattleboro. “A pooled insurance program would eliminate this dilemma for me and many other small businesses across the state -- enabling us to help provide the 12 weeks of leave that are necessary for optimal health outcomes for children and parents.”

Earlier this month, the Vermont Commission on Women released a study on the feasibility of a family and medical leave insurance program in Vermont. The study demonstrates that a robust insurance program has broad support among Vermonters and businesses and can be financed for a fraction of the cost of private employer-sponsored plans.

The study said that total program costs (including benefits and administrative costs) range from $40.5 million (0.47 percent of total earnings) to $79.4 million (0.93 percent of total earnings).