STATE SEN. RHONDA FIELDS: Paid family leave is critical, and FAMLI is a workable solution

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For workers taking care of their families, it’s past time for paid time off.

We need to pass legislation that will lift up families so that women and men don’t have to choose between their paycheck and taking time off to care for their family. Supporting working families is not a luxury; it’s common sense.

When illnesses, emergencies or disabilities happen, working parents should be able to turn to a fund that supports their families — and helps our businesses and our economy along the way.

state Sen. Rhonda Fields

I’m co-sponsoring a bill to do just that. House Bill 1001 creates a Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) plan entirely funded through small employee contributions to the insurance program. Qualifying workers will receive 66-95% of their wages when they take leave for their own serious illness or temporary disability, to care for an ill family member, for the birth or adoption of a new child, and for approved military family needs.

Despite the Sentinel’s confusion on this point in its Feb. 13 editorial, FAMLI is funded by the workers themselves. It’s not an income tax; it’s an employee-funded insurance plan. Only eligible employees who work over 680 hours a year would pay into the plan and be able to withdraw from the plan.

Everyone who pays in gets access to the benefit.

The premium will be less than one-half of one-percent of the employee’s yearly wages — about .3% or .4% of their salary. This means that employees will be paying a premium of $2-5 per week – a small price to pay for peace of mind and for access to 12 weeks of leave (as needed). We pay a lot more for mandated insurances like car insurance or health care insurance.

I made sure that this policy was designed so that the lowest wage workers can access and afford this benefit; the lowest wage workers will have 85%-95% of their paycheck replaced while well-paid workers will receive 66%.

What will that look like? Workers earning minimum wage, $10.20/hour, get paid about $408 a week. If they need 12 weeks of leave and have a wage replacement level of 95%, their benefit would be $388 a week — about $4,600 a year.  

Or, say an employee makes $25,000 a year; she would pay $2 a week into the FAMLI fund, about $104 a year. Her benefit would be about $460 a week, and if she needs the full 12 weeks of paid leave, she’d have up to $5,500 while she stays at home to care for herself or a loved one.

It may not be perfect but it’s pretty darn good.  And it’s for sure better than the status quo.

Currently, only about 36 percent of working Coloradans can access unpaid leave under federal law; far fewer have access to paid leave.

Unpaid leave means choosing between a paycheck and a parent’s health, between paying bills or playing with baby. Paid leave means workers can fulfill their responsibilities to their families as well as to their employer. They can return to work focused and productive, not distracted and stressed-out.

FAMLI is good for our newborns and our grandparents; our economy and our businesses; for parents and employees.

State Sen. Rhonda Fields is an Aurora Democrat and represents Senate District 29.