SoV – Policy Article

Paid Family Leave

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick family member, deal with a personal health emergency, or spend time at home following the birth or adoption of a child.  The unfortunate reality, however, is that many people simply cannot afford to take advantage of these protections.  If they’re not working, then they’re not bringing in the money needed to pay rent and utilities, buy food, and care for their family.

Workers without access to paid family leave are more likely to forgo necessary medical care for themselves and their family, and to return to work too soon after the birth of a child.  A 2016 study by researchers at McGill University found that each month of paid maternity leave is associated with a 13% reduction in infant mortality.  Paid maternity leave can reduce the stress on expectant mothers, provide them with easier access to third trimester care, enable them to better seek medical help if their child is ill, and increase how long they breastfeed their babies. All of this is critical in a state like Indiana, which has the 7th highest infant mortality rate in the country.

However, as of 2018 only 16% of civilian workers in the US had access to paid family leave, and only 40% to paid parental leave. 

During the 2019-2020 legislative session, Representative Chris Campbell (D, West Lafayette), introduced HR 1427 to the Indiana General Assembly in order to try and address this problem.  The bill would have allowed any employee using FMLA to receive a portion of their wages for up to six weeks.  The money would have been paid out through a state-managed benefit plan funded by a payroll tax set at 0.4% of employee wages – at least half of which had to be covered by the employer.

The amount of benefits paid out would have been tiered based on income.  Anyone making less than half of the state average weekly wage could have gotten 90% of their income for up to six weeks. Employees making more than that could have gotten benefits up to the state average.

The bill was co-authored by Rep Carrie Hamilton (D, Indianapolis) and Rep Rita Fleming (D, Jeffersonville).  Campbell first tried attaching the legislation as an amendment to the state budget.  When this failed, she introduced it as a bill.  The bill was assigned to the Employment, Labor, and Pensions Committee chaired by Rep. Heath VanNatter (R, Kokomo).  However, Rep VanNatter refused to give it a hearing.

As social service agencies fighting for the rights of low-wage workers in our communities, we can help by contacting our legislators and demanding that they support any future paid medical leave legislation.  And in particular, reach out to Rep VanNatter and demand that he give any such bills a hearing.

While this policy article highlights legislation from Indiana, we would love to hear what legislative issues are affecting clients in your communities.  If you have a legislative or policy issue that you’d like to see highlighted in a future newsletter, please email it to jprokopy@lumserve.org.

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