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Rhode Island Becomes the Third State with Paid Family Leave

July 3, 2013

By Ellen Bravo

Sixty-four cents won’t buy you a lot. It’s not enough for a bus ticket or a fifth of a tank of gas. It won’t get you a newspaper or even a pack of gum.

But if you live in Rhode Island and earn $40,000 a year, sixty-four cents a week will buy your way into an insurance pool that will allow you to draw two-thirds of your pay during a family leave. It means you won’t have to say, “I have to leave you now” to a badly injured or ill loved one. It means dads and adoptive parents can afford to have some time to bond with a new baby.

Both houses have now passed the Temporary Caregiver Insurance Bill (HB 5889, SB 231), positioning Rhode Island to become the third state in the country to offer wage replacement during family leave.  Sponsored in the Senate by Senator Gayle Goldin and in the House by Representative Elaine Coderre, the bill was signed on July 11 by Governor Lincoln Chafee.

The law will help workers like Renay Brooks-Omisore, whose son, a police officer and father of two, suffered severe brain trauma when a driver hit his motorcycle in 2011.  Renay recalls the moment she had to leave her son in the hospital:  “I remember telling my son, ‘I have to leave you now because I have to go to work, but we’ll be back here in a couple of days because you know we love you.’  With TCI in place, no mother or father will have to say that.  Because I tell you, it’s one of the hardest things to say to your family member as you hold their hand.”

The Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) bill will be the first law of its kind in the U.S. to protect the job security of all employees needing to take leave for a new child or to care for a seriously ill family member or personal illness. It will ensure that workers can take up to four weeks of paid leave to be with their families and that their jobs will be protected during that time.

Broad-Based Coalition Backed the Bill

“We commend the Rhode Island state legislature on standing up for Rhode Island’s families by passing Temporary Caregiver Insurance, which will strengthen the foundation of our economy by helping families stay afloat when they need it most,” said Marcia Coné, CEO of the Women’s Fund for Rhode Island.  “Our workforce has changed and our economy has changed. Temporary Caregiver Insurance will enable working people to care for their children, their parents, their loved ones, without fear of falling behind on their bills or losing their jobs.”

TCI was supported in the legislature by WE Care for Rhode Island, a broad-based coalition of workers, local business owners, economists, healthcare providers and health and family advocates.  Rhode Island’s TCI bill also caught the attention of several national business associations—Main Street Alliance, the American Sustainable Business Council, the Small Business Majority, and the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce—all of which urged the State Legislature to pass it.

Boost to Jobs and the Economy

During the floor vote, some legislators repeated the gloomy predictions of big corporate lobbies opposed to the bill. But they were far out-numbered by supporters, including legislators who are small business owners, who pointed out that the measure will allow employees in small firms to take care of their loved ones and be able to return to their jobs – and will benefit the economy by helping people cover the basics.

“I know that my employees have lives and loved ones beyond the workplace,” said Ann-Marie Harrington, President of Embolden, a digital media firm in Pawtucket and one of the many Rhode Island business owners who contacted legislators in support of TCI. “I want my employees to be able take care of who they need to at home without worrying about being able to cover their bills.  An employee who is distracted on the job is no good to me, and after a period of paid leave, they come back to work and stick with me for years.  Hiring and training replacement workers is expensive, so keeping turnover low is a huge cost saver for any business.

“As a business owner , I’m proud that our state legislators stood up for local businesses and Rhode Island’s working families by voting for TCI.  Jobs should be what enable us to support our families, not what prevent us from caring for them.”

How TCI Works

TCI builds off of Rhode Island’s existing successful Temporary Disability Insurance program (in existence since 1942, the nation’s first) and extends replacement income to workers who need to take time off to care for a new child or a seriously ill loved one.  The program is revenue neutral, funded solely through employee contributions, which amount to about 64 cents a week for workers earning $40,060 a year.  These pooled payments provide replacement income to keep families afloat—and off of public assistance—during the time they are caring for family members.  The program will strengthen economic security for working families by ensuring that workers do not lose critical income or their jobs when they need to take leave to tend to family health matters.

Everybody Benefits

“Temporary Caregiver Insurance is one of those rare policies where everybody benefits,” said Rep. Elaine Coderre, D-60.  “In an economy where too many people are struggling to cover the basics, TCI will ensure that a new baby or a health crisis does not become a financial crisis for our working families.”

More than 70 percent of children in Rhode Island live in families with all parents working, so loss of income for a primary breadwinner and caregiver has significant economic consequences for the whole family.  Many families cannot afford to have one parent miss work to care for a family member, and studies show that many bankruptcies happen after a worker misses two of more weeks of work due to illness.

Similar paid family leave insurance programs in California and New Jersey have proven popular among business owners.  A 2011 study of California’s family leave insurance (FMLI) program estimated savings for employers at $89 million a year.  The program has been easy to implement and most California employers coordinate their own benefits with the state’s FMLI program.  A recent Rutgers study shows that New Jersey’s FMLI program has reduced costs by decreasing turnover and improving productivity.  By offering workers job protection, Rhode Island’s TCI bill will help increase employee retention and keep working people in their jobs.

Drafted with the input of local small business owners and business leaders, Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance contains special protections that reflect the needs of small business owners.  For example, the leave must also be approved by a licensed health care provider, who must estimate the amount of time the employee will be out.

“The passage of Temporary Caregiver Insurance is a great victory for Rhode Island’s families and economy,” said Senator Gayle Goldin, D-3, who championed the bill in the Senate. “Welcoming a new baby, or caring for an ill family member will no longer push people into poverty.”

We Need State Paid Leave Fund

With this vote, Rhode Island joins California and New Jersey in leading the nation towards policies that value families and reflect the needs of our modern workforce and economy.

The Rhode Island victory adds fuel to the growing nationwide movement for policies like family leave insurance and paid sick days, and shows that progress can and does come from hardworking people speaking up for their families, their communities, and their jobs. We urge Congress to pass the State Paid Leave Fund so that more states can create insurance programs as we work to pass federal legislation that will cover everyone.

As Rep. Grace Diaz put it during the floor debate, “Most people work to support their families. In difficult times, we need to be with the ones we love. Families come first.”

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