Scott resurrects voluntary paid family leave plan
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Governor Phil Scott is wading into the issue of paid family leave again. After vetoing a pre-pandemic legislative effort at universal paid family leave, the governor on Tuesday rolled out a private, voluntary plan similar to one he first introduced with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu three years ago.
After almost three years in the works, a voluntary paid family and medical leave plan for Vermonters could be in sight. The opt-in plan presented by the governor Tuesday would offer employers a chance to purchase insurance for their workers that would reimburse at least 60% of wages for up to six weeks for those taking care of a newborn or a sick loved one.
“I truly believe this is a win, win, win for all and it accomplishes the goal I share with legislators,” Gov. Scott said.
The plan will be administered by The Hartford, a private insurance carrier, and will be phased in three parts. All 8,000 state employees would be eligible by next summer. By the summer of 2024, private employers could also sign on voluntarily. And in 2025, the plan would be extended to small employers and self-employed Vermonters.
Scott says his plan is simpler and does not lean on a payroll tax as the Democrats’ universal paid leave bill did. “A payroll tax, once you open that door, it’s very tough,” he said.
Paid family leave has been a big priority for Democrats for years but their effort fell short after failing to override Scott’s veto in 2020. The legislative session is just weeks away and Democrats in the House and Senate are looking to take the conversation one step further, to implement a universal paid family and medical leave plan.
Many employers already offer family and sick leave but advocates for a mandatory state plan contend many low-wage workers have to choose between earning pay and caring for themselves or sick family members. “In order to ensure the people who need paid family and medical leave most have access to it, you need a universal program, a program with adequate wage replacement and adequate time off to allow for family caregiving,” said Michelle Fay with the group Voices for Vermont Children.
Unlike 2019 when the issue was last debated in the Legislature, Vermont’s socioeconomic conditions are different. Wages are up but buying power has taken a hit from inflation. But economists say something is better than nothing. “You’re at least getting some wages, and yes, our purchasing power has decreased but everyone’s purchasing power has decreased as well,” said Samantha Trajkovski, an assistant professor of economics at St. Michel’s College.
The state is currently assessing just how many Vermont workers are without any kind of paid time off. Nationally that figure is 44%.
Scott says a voluntary plan without a broad payroll tax is another way to chip away at the state’s demographic challenges. “It’s really about the workforce. We need to bring more people into the state and I think that this is part of the answer,” he said.
Vermont House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray said in separate statements Tuesday that the governor’s plan falls short.
“Paid Family and Medical Leave isn’t a nice thing to have, it is a must have,” Gray said. “All Vermont workers deserve a minimum of 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.”
With Democrats holding a supermajority in the Legislature, they are expected to revive their old plan as well. And Vermonters will likely get a preview of it later this week at a summit focused on paid leave in Montpelier hosted by Gray and Krowinski.
Copyright 2022 WCAX. All rights reserved.