Paid family leave bill being considered in Rhode Island

Advocates for paid family leave are urging the Rhode Island General Assembly to pass the Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) bill, which would expand the state’s temporary disability insurance program to include workers who take leave to care for a newborn child or sick family member.

If enacted, workers could take up to eight weeks off from their jobs to care for a loved one and receive payments through the state’s disability insurance program. The average benefit would be $408 a week. To pay for the insurance, workers would contribute a small portion of their income. A worker making $43,000 a year would contribute $0.83 a week.

“Too many hard working Rhode Islanders . . . find themselves on the edge of economic crisis when they need to care for a seriously ill family member or welcome a new child into their home,” said Sen. Gayle Goldin, sponsor of the Senate version of the bill at an April press conference. “Life is filled with unexpected events, and all of us have experienced the push-pull between work responsibilities and someone in our families needing us. Temporary Caregiver Insurance is a cost-effective way to give employees the time to balance family and work responsibilities without jeopardizing their economic security.”

Supporters of the bill say that paid family care would benefit all workers in Rhode Island but especially those with lower incomes.

“While TCI would cover nearly 80 percent of Rhode Island’s workforce, low-wage workers living from paycheck to paycheck stand to benefit the most,” reads a statement on the website of We Care RI, a coalition supporting passage of the legislation. “Low-wage workers are the least likely to have a full-range of benefits or the savings to cover a few weeks of missed work. Yet, for less than cost of a cup of coffee a day, a low-wage worker can have the peace of mind to know that he or she can have access to paid time off when the need is greatest.”

Supporters of the legislation include the Rhode Island SEIU State Council, AARP Rhode Island, the Senior Agenda coalition, Woman’s Fund of Rhode Island, the Economic Progress Institute, and Rhode Island Kids Count.

In testimony before a state House committee, Leanne Barrett, a senior policy analyst with Rhode Island Kids Count, said that paid family leave is important for bolstering children’s health and development. “Paid time off from work gives parents and children the time that is necessary to establish a strong early connection which sets the course for all future development,” said Barrett.

A recently released report from AARP, Keeping Up with the Times: Supporting Family Caregivers and Workplace Leave, finds that while more workers are taking leave or retiring early to take care of an aging relative, little has been done to ensure that these workers have income to support themselves while they are on leave.

“The aging of the population, changing workforce demographics and increasing demands on family caregivers are colliding at the expense of working caregivers,” said Lynn Feinberg, Senior Strategic Policy Advisor with the AARP Public Policy Institute and author of the report.  “Even as workforce participation and caregiving demands are increasing for caregivers, workplace policies protecting or supporting them have remained stagnant.”

Even some Rhode Island business owners have recognized the value of paid family care leave.

“Recruiting, hiring, and training new employees is too expensive and time consuming,” said Dan Gold, president of LNA Laser Technology at the April press conference. “Especially when under TCI, I know that my employees will return after they’re done with their caregiving responsibilities.  This bill not only provides employees with job security, but business owners are able to avoid the costly process of hiring and training new employees.”

The US is one of the few rich countries that does not provide universal paid family leave; however, two states–California and New Jersey have already implemented paid family leave programs similar to TCI.

According to We Care Rhode Island, “Studies of California’s and New Jersey’s paid family leave legislation show temporary caregiver insurance leads to business savings, by increasing employee retention, lowering turnover costs, and enhancing worker morale.”

The state Senate Finance Committee has heard testimony of TCI and the bill is still pending in committee.

Sen. Goldin told the Associated Press that she is confident that the measure will be adopted by the General Assembly before it adjourns.

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