Bill will provide economic security to families during important life events
ST. PAUL – Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL – Virginia) and Sen. Susan Kent (DFL – Woodbury) have introduced the Minnesota Paid Family and Medical Leave Act of 2017. In proposing the legislation, the bill authors pointed to growing disparities for low-wage workers, an aging population increasingly dependent on care from family members, and a need to provide Minnesota families a sense of economic peace of mind following birth or the need to care for a loved one.
“As my grandfather’s days were winding down, I was in a position where I was able to spend the necessary time with him to ensure he remained comfortable,” Rep. Metsa said. “All of us as human beings, whether it’s when we emerge from the womb, during the twilight of our lives, or somewhere in between, will need to rely on care from a family member at some point in time. This bill makes sure Minnesotans won’t continue to face potential financial hardship when they are called upon to provide this care.”
“I have watched too many friends and family members struggle with the stresses of becoming a caregiver to a loved one. It’s a heartbreaking choice to be forced to choose between putting food on the table and providing care to a family member or child in need,” Sen. Kent said. “It’s way past time to change the way we do things here in Minnesota. In order to be the best state we can be, we need to recognize that there are some significant gaps in our society that require attention. Paid family and medical leave should no longer be viewed as a luxury – but rather an important tool that all Minnesotans will need to use at some point in their lives.”
The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, and 70 other countries require paid paternity leave as well. Nationwide, only 13 percent of private sector workers have paid family leave through their employers and just 40 percent have access to paid medical leave through employer-provided short-term disability insurance. Further, only around 60 percent of workers qualify for unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, and many who do are unable to take advantage of it because they simply can’t afford the loss of income. Low-income (46%), part time (38%), Black (42%), Hispanic (39%), younger (39%), and less educated (38%) workers are much more likely to go without any pay while taking FMLA-qualifying leaves.
Under the bill, an insurance program administered by the state of Minnesota would provide Minnesotans with up to 12 weeks of partial wage replacement during pregnancy and medical leave and 12 weeks of family leave, defined as bonding with a new child or caring for a seriously-ill family member.
Workers would receive between 80 and 55 percent of their wages, based on income, up to $1,000 per week. Program costs would be minimal and shared equally by employers and employees. The median worker and his/her employer would each contribute $1.75 per week.
While the social insurance model championed by Rep. Metsa and Sen. Kent has been proven effective worldwide and would expand workers’ access to an affordable, comprehensive, and inclusive set of paid family and medical leave benefits, the narrowly defined parental leave tax credit and family leave savings account approaches favored by GOP lawmakers would not. Research shows that employer tax credits are not effective at changing employer behavior and employee tax credits and savings accounts are meaningless for working class families who can’t afford to wait until the end of the year for a small portion of foregone wages or to put money aside into a savings account.
This Minnesota Paid Family and Medical Leave Act renews a push launched during the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions by Minnesotans for Paid Family Leave, a statewide coalition of community, faith, and labor organizations chaired by Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, ISAIAH, and the Minnesota AFL-CIO.
In the House, HF 1013 awaits action by the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Committee. In the Senate, SF 830 has been referred to the Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee where it awaits a hearing.
Rep. Jason Metsa represents District 6B in the Minnesota House, covering much of Minnesota’s Iron Range, and can be reached at 651-296-0170. Sen. Susan Kent serves as Assistant Minority Leader in the Minnesota Senate, serving District 53, which includes the communities of Woodbury, Maplewood, Oakdale and Landfall. She can be reached at 651-296-4166.