Supporters of paid family and medical leave on Tuesday launched a renewed push to guarantee pay for Minnesotans who take time off to care for a child, an ailing relative or themselves.
“Our children, parents and family members can no longer wait,” said Bharti Wahi, executive director of Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota. “They must no longer face the impossible choice, and it is a hard one, between caring for a family member and losing a paycheck.”
Wahi and other members of the Minnesotans for Paid Family Leave coalition support a DFL proposal to give Minnesota workers up to 12 weeks of partial wage replacement for medical leave, including pregnancy, and an additional 12 weeks to care for a newborn or family member. A new state-run insurance program, funded by a 0.31 percent payroll tax on both employers and employees, would cover the cost of the reimbursements.
The debate over paid leave has picked up steam nationwide in recent years. Federal law guarantees 12 week of unpaid family and medical leave for most workers, but just 14 percent of Americans have access to paid leave through their employers.
While polling indicates broad support for some form of paid leave, policymakers and voters are split on the best way to expand the benefit.
DFL lawmakers, who have made the issue a top priority this session, say a state-run paid leave system will help families and businesses and boost the economy as a whole by allowing more people to afford to stay in the workforce.
“From a budget standpoint, there’s a great case for it, there’s a business case for it and there’s a moral case for it,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park.
Republicans, whose support will be needed to pass the Senate, say the current proposal is flawed. State Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, said that while “paid family leave is something we are all working toward ... the math doesn’t work under this proposal.”
“[Either] far fewer people get benefits or everyone pays way higher taxes,” Housley said, adding that she is also concerned about the fairness of the sliding income-based wage reimbursements.
Laura Bordelon, with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said the group is “deeply concerned” about several key elements, including added bureaucracy and costs. “We feel very strongly that employers know best how to offer benefits for employees,” said Bordelon, the chamber’s senior vice president for advocacy.
Sen. Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, said she’s encouraged by conversations with GOP colleagues and hoping to introduce her bill soon with bipartisan support. Gov. Tim Walz, who campaigned on the issue, said while his administration is still reviewing different proposals he is “confident that this is an issue where legislators can come together to find common ground.” Housley also said she is “optimistic we’ll come up with a really good plan that works for all families.”
A number of other states, including California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, have enacted similar programs. Supporters said success in other places proves the concept.
Creating a system in Minnesota would also require state spending up front. Previous versions of the legislation required tens of millions of dollars over the first three years.