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Here at the Maine Women’s Lobby, we’ve been researching family leave insurance for nearly ten years. It’s passed in three other states (California, Washington, and New Jersey), and many more are actively working on legislation. Right now, in Maine, when working families welcome a new baby or face a serious illness (think horrendous car accident or cancer) it’s every family on their own. Some may work for an employer who is able to provide them with temporary disability insurance or paid maternity or paternity leave. These are the lucky ones. But, for far, far too many workers, pay is not an option; it is a question of “Can I afford to take the unpaid time I need to be with my family, and will I still have a job when I return to work?”

For small employers, it isn’t easy either. Take my friend Carlos who owns an inn and employs ten people. If one of his two housekeepers gets seriously ill, he can’t afford to pay her wages while she recovers while hiring a replacement worker and paying an additional wage to the new worker. He sees it as paying double, and in this economy, it’s simply not possible.

The way it stands today, employers are out there on their own, just like working families. When babies arrive or serious illness strikes, employees & employers are left alone to navigate work and family obligation. Too much is left up to circumstance or luck. That’s why we, as a society, need to recognize that the first ten weeks of a child’s life or in the most tragic cases, the last ten weeks of an aging parent’s life, are precious and should be treated with respect and dignity with no one worrying about their paycheck or their job. As a society, we can act together and support a family leave insurance program that would share the costs of continuing wages while workers take care of their families and themselves. This not only supports families, it supports workplaces, as well, through increased productivity after the leave is taken and increased loyalty among employees. Happy and healthy workers are the most productive.

To go back to Carlos’ concern about his housekeeper who gets seriously ill. He wouldn’t need to pay two sets of wages if Maine had a family leave insurance program. The program would pay his ill housekeeper while he paid her temporary replacement. He would no longer be faced with those impossible decisions: how do I support my workers when it’s just too expensive? Family leave insurance is good for employers.

Policy advocates and employers both want the same things – a healthy and productive economy where small business prospers and working families have a fair chance at prosperity. A family leave insurance program can help get us there.

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