Feb 14, 2017VT Digger
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Matt Levin, the executive director of the Vermont Early Childhood Alliance, a statewide advocacy coalition focused on Vermont’s young children and families.
We know that our government, and especially our state Legislature, is doing a good job when it develops policies that respond directly to what Vermonters are asking for.
For some time, Vermont businesses have been asking for help in offering their employees long-term leave benefits. Small business owners know that in order to attract and retain good employees – and thus increase efficiency and save money – they have to help their employees find the balance between focusing on work and caring for themselves and their families.
Long-term leave for medical issues, birth or adoption, and other significant events in our lives can make that balance possible for workers, but it isn’t something most small Vermont businesses can provide on their own. The creation of a statewide family and medical leave insurance program would solve this problem.
Leave insurance programs make sense for small businesses, and for the health and economic security of families and our communities, too. For example, studies overwhelming show that when parents are able to take at least 12 weeks to bond with and care for new children, infant mortality rates are reduced, babies receive more regular checkups and immunizations, and breastfeeding rates increase. All of that improves the health of both babies and parents.
Even though many of us want to stay with loved ones at critical times, without leave programs we can’t afford to do so. The workforce has changed significantly over the past 50 years, and so have families. As a community, we must get out of the habit of assuming that there is always someone able to stay at home for weeks at a time and provide necessary care for children or elderly family members when health emergencies arise.
Not only are more women working than in the past, but the share of adult children providing care to aging parents has tripled over the past 15 years. Families depend on multiple incomes, and few of us could afford to lose a job because a parent gets seriously ill. A leave insurance program would reduce that threat, and help ensure Vermont’s future generations thrive.
The solution to this problem isn’t to develop a new program, but to use a model that is already working around the country and around the world – a family and medical leave insurance program, that all Vermont businesses participate in.
A poll of business owners done last year by Main Street Alliance showed that businesses were not only ready to pay for such a program, but wanted to – because they know it would be an investment that’s good for their business. But they can’t do it alone. They have to find a way to work together, using their combined financial resources.
The good news is that a bill has just been proposed by 52 members of the Vermont House that makes that collaborative approach possible.
The bill, H.196, has tri-partisan support and would create a statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program. The program would be paid for jointly, by employers and employees, through a small charge on paychecks. For someone making $40,000 a year, their share would be roughly $180 per year. Employers would make the same payment.
In exchange for this modest investment, employees would be able to access up to 12 weeks of leave to tend to personal needs surrounding a birth, adoption, or serious illness, and they would be able to do so knowing that they would still receive their full salary – paid out of the insurance fund.
Why do so many businesses support this? Because they know it will make their business more successful. And it will help boost our economy by attracting more young people to Vermont and by encouraging young families to stay here. It’s one initiative we can take to build a stronger Vermont, attracting new businesses and industries.
Families and those looking out for Vermont’s young children support the idea, too. We support it because many of us are small business owners ourselves. And many Vermont parents – the most important caregivers of all – are workers who are trying to balance supporting their family financially and in more personal way. Being there for a sick parent undergoing surgery, welcoming and caring for a new child, being able to heal yourself completely before returning to work – you can bet that all of us will be faced with one of these scenarios at some point in the next few years. With this statewide family and medical leave program, we can be good employees and take care of our families.
Healthier families, healthier kids, more successful businesses, and more young people wanting to live and work here in Vermont – that’s what H.196 will accomplish. We ask that you join many business owners and community leaders around the state in supporting this important bill.