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Approaching the Quarter Pole on Paid Family Leave

January 18, 2020


On Wednesday, January 15, House and Senate members in the Vermont Legislature signed a report from the conference committee on H.107, our Paid Family Medical Leave Insurance Act. On Friday, January 17, the Senate passed the bill 20-9-1, and on this coming Thursday, January 23, the House will vote on it. If it passes, it will go to the Governor. He will have 5 days to sign it, let it go into law without his signature, or veto it. As I said in the title to the piece, we are at the quarter pole–almost home but still a ways to go before we get there.

This bill, if enacted, will provide access to a number of family-friendly benefits for working Vermonters, families who would like to have children and those that need to provide care for aging or ill family members. It also strengthens the existing Vermont Family and Medical Leave Act, which is unpaid (and has existed since the 1990s) and provides some job protections for those who take the leave.

Paid leave for bonding (or maternity/paternity) will require a small payroll tax to purchase the premium of .20% — or 2 cents for every $10 of income — and because leave for a personal injury is a voluntary part of the program (for now), opting in would cost less than 4 cents more for every $10 of income. This payroll tax would be taken from every employee in Vermont on income up to approximately $140,000, just like Social Security taxes, which are far higher than this one.

There are provisions in the bill that determine the nuances of that leave taken — for foster children, siblings, grandchildren — and the rates of wage replacement. For instance, if you make $27,000 a year (or about $15 an hour), you will receive 90% of your income for the weeks you need it. From that $27,000 salary on up, you would receive the 90% for the first $27,000, and then 55% of your income until the benefit reaches $964 (if your salary is approximately $73,000). Salaries above that would receive the capped benefit of $964 as wage replacement.

This technical discussion of some of the nuts and bolts of H.107 obscures the reason we have worked so long on this bill — families need support during times of medical crisis (illness, death or injury), and during times of joy (childbirth). This bill takes the stand in saying that Vermonters should not have to suffer the financial stress of the loss of income or the fear that they will lose employment during these times, and we feel that Vermonters who are able to use this benefit become better and healthier parents, and better and healthier employees. From there, we can imagine workplaces where loyal employees are more efficient, leading to less turnover and better long-term health and economic outcomes for both the employers and employees. We also know it takes two to tango, and we expect employers to embrace this program as a economic driver to attract younger people and younger Vermonters to their companies.

If Governor Scott vetoes this bill, thereby going against the will and wishes of the vast majority of Vermonters who support this bill, both in surveys and through the votes of their elected representatives, we will be forced to try to override his veto. And while it may appear that we have enough representatives to do this, it is not clear that we yet have the votes. Please reach out to your representatives and ask to support it, and if they say no, ask them why.

These benefits will go a long way to helping Vermonters deal with the issues that can slow them down, and I think it will show that we can build a compassionate policy that can help make it so. In conjunction with this bill, we will be pressing forward this coming week for an increase in the minimum wage.

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