Vt. Democrats unveil universal paid family leave bill

Published: Jan. 26, 2023 at 6:05 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Democrats this week unveiled their latest proposal to provide universal paid family leave to all Vermont workers. Calvin Culter reports on how the bill squares with Governor Phil Scott’s plan and how it’s being received by Vermonters.

Sascha Mayer is one of the founders of Mamava, a Burlington-based company employing over 60 people that specialized in manufacturing breastfeeding pods installed in places including malls, train stations, and airports

“Culture, in general, would be benefited if this was a standard,” Mayer said of universal paid family leave. At Mamava, they offer 12 weeks of full-wage replacement for new parents and six weeks for their spouses. Mayer says offering the benefit has helped her stay competitive in a tight labor market. “People who have children -- if they don’t have these types of supports, they make it difficult to stay with an employer.” Mayer says more businesses should adopt similar policies and that it’s worth the cost.

Universal paid leave has been a longstanding priority for Democrats at the Statehouse. They say the need was highlighted by the pandemic and related child care shortages.

“The incredible struggle of the working class under those circumstances, of the struggle of not being able to pay our bills -- because we aren’t working under those circumstances,” said Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee and is leading the charge on the new bill.

The plan would stand up a new program administered through dozens of new positions at the treasurer’s office. It would offer up to 12 weeks of the average weekly wage -- $1,135 a week -- and would be funded through a 0.58% payroll tax. Employers like Mayer, who offer comparable benefits, can opt for the state plan or keep their benefits system.

But as with any program this ambitious, the high price tag remains controversial. The Scott administration is moving forward with a plan that allows employers to opt-in voluntarily, which he says will not raise taxes on Vermonters. He says lawmakers should use his plan as a starting point

“Building the foundation that could be utilized with this new proposal that we put on the table that we’re doing with the state employees and see if we can broaden that,” Scott said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are also looking to create a robust child care system as well, which is expected to cost upwards of $279 million in new public investment, according to a new report. Can the state fund both?

“I think the state doesn’t have the capacity to not do this. I think this is what families are asking from us. It’s not an either-or situation, this is what’s needed for families to make it work,” Rep. Kornheiser said.

Big employers and other business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce haven’t officially weighed in on the plan yet.

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