Paid family medical leave gets a makeover in Maryland’s legislative session
Nine states and the District of Columbia have adopted paid family leave policies, and Maryland could be next if the legislature passes the Time to Care Act this year.
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Monika Roberts, a retired public school administrative secretary, was constantly bloated and struggled to eat after two to three bites at each meal. After several doctor visits and MRI scans, she discovered that she needed hernia surgery.
This meant several weeks of absence from work and no driving. After the operation, Roberts stayed with her daughter, Patty, who is a parent educator and recess worker for Montgomery County public schools. Complications from Roberts’ surgery led to a two-and-a-half-month recovery, during which Patty helped her eat enough, kept up with her medications, took her to doctor’s appointments, and walked around. with her when she didn’t feel like walking.
“She was my pointer,” said Roberts, who is 63. But that was only possible because the school system gave Patty and Roberts, who was administrative secretary at Lucy V. Barnsley Elementary School in Montgomery County at the time, an extended salary leave. “It was a no-regret way to heal,” said Roberts.
Thinking back to the operation six years later, Roberts said she felt lucky that she and her daughter were able to take several weeks of paid leave. She did not have this benefit when she worked for an insurance company, which only gave her 10 days of sick leave after a miscarriage, although she needed at least four weeks to recover. Circumstances led her to leave this job and it took over a year for her to find another one.
“It’s not something we have to fight for,” said Roberts. “There must be a way not to put [the burden] on the person who is sick or caring for someone who is sick – this is not fair. “
The United States is the only high-income country without paid national leave, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Under a 1993 law, workers are entitled to 12 weeks unpaid family and medical leave. But half of Marylanders are not eligible because federal law requires employees to have worked for at least a year and exempts organizations with fewer than 50 employees. Only 23% of Americans have access to paid family leave, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Without paid leave, some workers have to give up their jobs or use all of their personal sick leave – usually 10 days – to care for a family member or welcome a new child. And the coronavirus pandemic has particularly put the terms of family care to the test. This disproportionately affects women, who shoulder most of the care responsibilities and it is advisable to take at least six to eight weeks to recover from childbirth.
Yet nearly a quarter of women nationwide return to work after 10 days of maternity leave, according to Time to Care Maryland, a coalition fighting for paid family leave statewide in Maryland.
“No one should have to choose between their family and the job they need,” said Myles Hicks, campaign manager for Time to Care Maryland. “The consequence is that people don’t get a break to take care of themselves. “
Last year, President Biden proposed up to 12 weeks of paid vacation for all Americans, but the proposal fell to four weeks of paid vacation and was ultimately crushed after business leaders and Republicans refused. of Congress.
Nine states and the District of Columbia have adopted paid family leave policies, and Maryland could be next if the legislature passes the Time to Care Act this year, sponsored by Sen. Antonio L. Hayes (D-Baltimore City) and Of the. Kris Valderrama (D-Prince George’s).
“If people across the country can’t get paid family and medical leave, we can at least work so that Marylanders have that benefit,” Hicks said.
The measure would allow all Marylanders, part-time and full-time employees who worked 680 hours, to take 12 weeks of paid leave after childbirth or to take care of themselves or a family member. having serious health problems. Depending on their wages, workers would receive a partial wage replacement between $ 50 and $ 1,000 per week.
This would be the fourth iteration of a paid family leave measure in the General Assembly. Last year’s measure did not come out of committee, but supporters argue it is popular policy among voters from both parties. In a 2020 Time to Care Maryland coalition poll, 88% of voters who responded were in favor of creating a paid family leave program, including 92% Democrats and 81% Republicans.
House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) told Maryland Matters on Monday that she expects the legislation to be scrutinized this year.
How much would the leave pay?
Under the proposed bill, employers and employees would contribute a small amount from each paycheque each week to a state-administered insurance fund. Workers who want paid family and medical leave can submit a request to withdraw funds from this public insurance fund, which would be managed by the Secretary of Labor.
An average weekly contribution would be around $ 7.04, split evenly between employee and employer, according to Clinton Macsherry, director of public policy for the Maryland Family Network. The more an individual earns, the more he and his employer must contribute to the fund – up to about $ 9.47 each, Macsherry said.
If an individual’s weekly pay is around $ 700 or less, they will receive 90% of their weekly pay while on leave, Macsherry said. Anyone who earns more than that will receive 50% more of their weekly salary above the initial $ 700.
“Low-income people need to have a higher proportion of that replacement wage for it to be viable for them,” Macsherry said. “If they could only get half their salary, it’s really not enough for them to take time off.
Since this is only a partial salary replacement, there will always be an incentive to return to work and earn a full salary. But the proposal at least gives families the option to take time off work, Macsherry said.
The funds could also be used for an educational program that educates the public about the statewide paid family and medical leave program.
But some business groups have opposed the measure as being too costly, especially for small businesses struggling to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some were also concerned about the potential abuse of the program – for example, if workers asked for paid time off when they didn’t really need it. The bill requires workers to present a legitimate reason for taking time off, such as a doctor’s note.
In written testimony last year, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce wrote that it was “very concerned” that the legislation would impose additional costs on small business owners and nonprofit organizations that do not. can afford to lose an employee for several months, in addition to other financial mandates such as sick leave and paying a minimum wage of $ 15, which Maryland is expected to demand from 2025. In addition, the The law did not include enough safeguards to prevent potential abuse of the program, the chamber wrote.
While this bill would impose an additional cost on Lavonne Taylor, director of Forest Hill Nature Preschool in Harford County, she said she was willing to contribute to the paid vacation fund if it meant better staff retention by due to a higher level of employment. Security.
“It’s a personnel issue more than a cost issue,” Taylor said. “The cost to me of replacing this staff member [who leaves because of a lack of benefit] is much higher than for me to keep this staff member, ”she said.
Taylor currently offers her staff 40 hours of annual sick leave or paid personal leave, but cannot afford to offer more time off on her own. “At the moment, my option is not to split the leave 50/50; my options are to pay entirely myself or the employees are not paid.
One of Taylor’s full-time teachers left last summer to care for his father, and it took three months to find a replacement, Taylor said. “We had already invested in four years of training with her… it is difficult to find someone who is qualified and who has experience in this climate at the moment, so it was a challenge,” he said. she declared. Taylor said her teacher would have had more options if a statewide paid family leave program had existed.
If her daughter hadn’t had access to paid time off, Roberts said she wouldn’t have allowed her daughter to look after her. “I’m not going to make him lose his job to take care of me. I should have done it myself. Would it have been difficult? – yes, ”said Roberts.
“I don’t think I could have done it because I wouldn’t have had the mental capacity to do it.”