Vermont paid family leave plan still a work in progress

Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 2:37 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The pandemic and the toll it took on Vermont families has renewed calls for paid family and medical leave. It comes a year and a half after Governor Phil Scott vetoed an effort by Vermont lawmakers in order to pursue a voluntary plan.

Randy George, the co-owner of the Red Hen Baking Company in Middlesex, isn’t able to offer a comprehensive paid family leave plan because it’s too expensive. But he offers paid time off and disability insurance to 37 of his 50 employees. He says it is used for injuries outside of the job. “it’s come up a handful of times and it’s been critical for those people who have had to use it,” he said.

Democratic lawmakers two years ago tried to create a universal family and sick leave plan for all employers like George, but they were unable to bill override a veto from the governor. Just days into setting up the governor’s voluntary plan, the pandemic forced lawmakers to shelve the effort. Now, a year and a half later a final plan remains in the air.

“The federal government provided some benefit during the pandemic, so that lessened the critical nature of getting something out as quickly as we need to. But that benefit is over -- that ended at the end of 2020 - that conversation is very much alive now,” said Vt. DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak.

He says the state hasn’t yet put out a request to insurance companies to offer services and that President Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion budget may include paid family and medical leave. That plan could mean 12 weeks of paid leave for personal medical, maternal, and paternal leave. “We want to react to what that structure will be and then add to it instead of competing with it,” Pieciak said.

Advocates say a national approach would level the playing field for Vermont businesses. “For them, this would be an incredible opportunity to attract and retain workers and make sure that they can enable their workers to put health and safety first,” said Morgan Nichols, Vermont executive director of the Main Street Alliance.

While lawmakers in Washington negotiate a potential plan, Vermont Democrats say the time for a change is now. “Paid family and medical leave shouldn’t be seen as a challenge or a cost to the state but it should be seen as an opportunity for the state to keep women in the workforce and to keep a really strong and robust economy,” said Vt. Lt. Governor Molly Gray.

The Scott administration hopes to resume looking for companies to roll out the leave plan in the fall and after that, it could be about six months time until people can sign up.

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