WEST HARTFORD >> From taking care of a spouse who’s had a stroke, to spending time considered critical to a baby’s development, people throughout Connecticut would benefit from a system of paid family and medical leave, according to advocates and members of the public who attended an evening forum at West Hartford Town Hall on Jan. 19. Hosted by Sen. Beth Bye and the Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave, the forum allowed state residents to discuss the benefits of such a system to both employees and employers.
“Paid family medical leave is about supporting families and protecting babies’ brains,” said Sen. Beth Bye, who sponsored the gathering. “The first year of brain development is critical for future success.” Under a proposal currently being formulated by the Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave, mothers and fathers would be able to take paid time off from work for the care of a newborn or newly adopted child.
The idea of an employee-funded system of paid leave is gaining momentum nationally and, if implemented, Connecticut’s proposal would be among the most comprehensive in the nation.
“The United States significantly trails the rest of the world in policies that support the true family values of its workers,” said Catherine Bailey, co-chair of the Campaign for Paid Family Leave, and Legal and Public Policy Director at the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF). “There is an urgent movement underway, nationally and in Connecticut, to create a system of wage replacement for employees who find themselves needing to take time off from work to care for themselves, a seriously ill family member, or for the birth or adoption of a new child.”
According to a 2015 report from the AARP Public Policy Institute, family caregivers in the United States provide about 37 billion hours of care to an adult with “limitations in daily activities.” These unpaid hours of care were worth nearly $470 billion in 2013, which was up from about $450 billion in 2009. Here in Connecticut, approximately 459,000 residents are family caregivers.
“AARP believes family caregivers, along with parents of newborns and others, should not have to worry about losing their pay – or losing their jobs – when they have to take time off to care for a loved one,” said Enzo Pastore, AARP senior legislative representative, who works on caregiving issues across the country. “Today, more than 450,000 Nutmeggers care for their older parents, spouses and other loved ones so they can live independently at home, and stay out of costly, taxpayer-funded institutions. They help with bathing and dressing, meal preparation, transportation, complex medical tasks and more. Most also work full- or part-time. That’s why we support paid family leave as one commonsense step to help make these big responsibilities a little bit easier.”
The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), which co-chairs the Campaign for Paid Family Leave along with CWEALF, says paid leave would greatly enhance the economic status of women, who still tend to bear most of the burden of uncompensated hours of caregiving. And the PCSW points to studies that show young workers care about the work/life balance a paid leave system would make possible.
“Paid family and medical leave would not only benefit workers and caregivers, but make Connecticut a better place to do business by lowering costs for employers and attracting a skilled and talented workforce,” said Michelle Noehren, co-chair of the Campaign for Paid Family Leave, and PCSW Events and Special Projects Director. “We believe the momentum for paid leave is strong and growing, and calls on our state’s leaders to make this vision a reality.”
According to paid leave advocates, countless workers are forced to choose among work, family responsibilities and, in some cases, their own physical health. While the federal FMLA has successfully provided (unpaid) job-protected time off to millions of workers since its enactment in 1993, just 13% of workers have access to paid leave through their employers and fewer than 40% have access to employer-provided personal medical leave.