Parental and sick leave paid for all? How would that work? – Twin towns

Whether you are the parent of a young child or have an aging parent, the basic idea may seem enticing: paid time off to care for yourself, a child, or a family member. – for every worker in Minnesota.

Democrats and some advocacy groups have been pushing the measure for half a decade in Minnesota, and last week it was one of the first things Leading Democrats said when news broke Tuesday that the state is now expected to have a surplus of $ 7.7 billion by the end. of June.

The next day, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan hosted an event designed for the media in which fellow Democrats, cabinet members and an assortment of employers from large and small businesses touted the virtues of this which became the paid family. , parental leave and medical leave.

These virtues cover a range of societal challenges, ranging from health benefits, such as reducing the number of low birth weight babies by allowing pregnant women to take time before and after birth, to economic benefits, such as as reducing the cost and burden of elderly care. allowing workers time off to care for an aging parent at home.


But how would it actually work and how much would it cost?

Here’s the short version: It would work like unemployment: Workers who contribute to the state-run program would be eligible to receive benefits – typically around 90 percent of their pay for up to three months, according to the most recent proposal. The idea is not to give someone a day or two in case of illness, but rather an extended period of paid time off – more than a week at a time – for bigger issues, such as birth or adoption of a child, care for a family member in palliative care, or for cancer treatment, to name but a few examples.

The amount of taxes would be a variable percentage based on income, just like benefits, and both would be capped. One scenario: A person earning $ 50,000 per year would be taxed $ 3 per week, and their employer would also pay $ 3 per week. When an employee wishes to take leave and apply for benefits, he applies for it through the state, in the same way as unemployment benefits.

Not all employers would have to participate in the program. Employers who already offer benefits as good or better than those offered by the state could opt out. However, the burden on companies to opt out or administer their part of the program has caught the attention of some groups of companies.

The program would be large, complicated and expensive.

The 68-page bill approved by the House earlier this year would create a whole new state program – similar to the state’s unemployment program but actually more complicated – with at least 320 full-time workers, a new one complex computer system and at least about $ 2.1 billion of public funds in the first four years to start up, according to the state’s latest financial analysis, which was carried out in 2019. In addition to start-up costs, mass money to be paid would come from a new payroll tax. that workers and their employers would have to pay.

And that is – billions of dollars and a tax hike – which is why Republicans say it hasn’t happened yet. While the Democratic, Farmer, and Labor-controlled House passed it and Walz supports it, the Republican-controlled Senate did not put the issue to a floor vote. For years, Republicans in both chambers have emphasized the cost and complexity of describing the program as one that would create a government bureaucracy that is unlikely to function well, difficult to navigate for employers, and for the benefit of a relatively small group of workers. who would end up benefiting from it.


Advocates agree the program would be important, but say the cost must be put into perspective.

“We need to look at the cost of doing nothing,” said State Representative Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, the main sponsor of the House-approved proposal. “There are health costs and societal costs that we have today, and the pandemic has shown it.”

Richardson said the costs would be split between employers and employees, so as not to burden small businesses that are less likely to offer paid time off.

For advocates hoping to gain Republican support, the idea that you have to pay for benefits is important; the program is not a document.

“It’s a deserved benefit,” said Debra Fitzpatrick, director of policy and research for the Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota. “They help out and when they need it, he’s there for them. It is both financially and politically sustainable. Social Security is the best example of a program that works like this and that people generally accept. Unemployment insurance is another. There is a mechanism to ensure that the chests are full.

“It’s a very different system than the government just providing it, and then there are these questions of whether or not someone deserved it. “

Even though a 2019 analysis by non-partisan House researchers found that just under 200,000 workers would benefit from the program’s benefits each year – and Republicans noted that this is less than 7% of the workforce – Crown Work – Fitzpatrick said the number was misleading. That’s because workers who apply for the benefit one year may be totally different people than those who apply for it the next year, she said, noting that not all working parents have a job. new kids come into their lives every year – but they all have done it at some point.

“Over time more and more people see a benefit,” she said.

Supporters are also trying to sell the benefits of the plan to Republicans by emphasizing the needs of rural families, as noted in a research paper Fitzpatrick wrote for the Department of Employment and Economic Development in 2016, when she was at the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota. of Public Affairs. She updated the report in 2019.

So while much of the Democratic rhetoric around the plan focuses on the higher likelihood of people of color not having access to paid time off, the cost – and shortage – of child care in predominantly white rural communities are often lost in statistics. Rather than forcing a new parent – usually the mother – back to work to shell out over $ 10,000 a year in child care, why not allow the mother to raise her own child for three months while still being paid? This result, according to the report, reduces the likelihood that the parent will be forced to apply for other government programs, such as food stamps.


When Democrats first brought this idea to Minnesota, it was seen as a largely unproven concept, and it was another blow to the program. Could the state’s IT department, which developed an infamous vehicle system known as MNLARS, be trusted to come up with a new system? It would “not have put in place any technological systems, processes or trained personnel,” concluded the 2019 non-partisan analysis, adding that, unlike the unemployment insurance system, there are no decades of legal precedent to determine whether benefits are accepted or denied correctly. Initially, the appeal process could face a heavy burden, the report notes.

But since then, several Democratic-controlled states have embraced the idea. Last week, Connecticut became the eighth state to launch such a program. The other states are California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Washington, Oregon and Colorado. Washington, DC, also has a similar program.

Fitzpatrick said Minnesota would benefit from what those states have learned and that some Minnesota workers, including IT workers, have already started to examine how other states are doing it.

“We’re not really starting from scratch,” she said.

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