TOPEKA — State Treasurer Lynn Rogers joined peers from 16 states Wednesday to press Congress for passage of a paid medical leave law to fill a gap exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic when millions faced loss of income and jobs to care for family members.
Rogers, a Democrat, endorsed a letter campaign organized by the Paid Leave for the United States organization that asserted a comprehensive national policy would provide a baseline of stability for working families and help businesses by standardizing policy, promoting employee retention and building workforce resilience ahead of economic recession or public health disaster.
Eight states, including Colorado, and the District of Columbia have paid medical leave. Oregon is scheduled to implement the policy in 2022. The group has a variety of funding streams, eligibility requirements and duration of benefits.
“As we see other states around us start to talk about it and add it themselves, it will really put Kansas businesses at a disadvantage,” Rogers said. “It will hurt our competitiveness on attracting companies. We know it will hurt our ability to recruit and retain our workforce.”
He said a consistent nationwide policy on leave from work would prevent a hodgepodge of state-by-state policies. A national program on paid leave will reduce dependence on state social services, he said.
In addition, Rogers said businesses should compete based on innovation, customer service and the quality of products or services rather than “whether their state legislature requires them to provide employees with an essential benefit like paid leave.”
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., reintroduced legislation this year designed to deliver 12 weeks of paid leave for workers caring for their own health or medical welfare of a relative. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act has been introduced in Washington, D.C., since 2013 but failed to gain traction due to concern it would be funded by tax increases.
The pending legislation would go beyond the existing federal Family and Medical Leave Act offering unpaid leave and job protections to qualified employees of businesses with at least 50 employees.
Under the bill, a federal insurance program devoted to paid leave would be run through the Social Security Administration. It would cover all employees including part-time, temporary and self-employed workers regardless of a company’s size. Paid leave would be funded through a payroll tax of 0.2%. Workers would be entitled to 60 days of leave each year at two-thirds their regular pay up to $4,000 per month.
Washington State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti, also a Democrat, said on a conference call the state’s paid leave program implemented in 2020 prior to the pandemic was important to rebuilding the state’s economy.
“I believe our economic recovery in Washington state would not have been as strong and as quick if not for policies like paid leave,” he said. “It really is a bridge that allows people to stay in their current jobs. It encourages people when they are incapacitated due to an illness to get the care that they need.”
Wisconsin state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski added: “We need a bold national paid leave policy so people can recover from an illness or care for loved ones without fear of getting fired or losing a paycheck.”
Fiona Ma, state treasurer in California, said the state implemented paid leave in 2004. She said research indicated participation had continued to grow, especially among men, and prompted increased employment among new mothers. The study showed paid leave has a moderating influence on labor costs for small companies, she said.
“During this pandemic, women have lost 5.4 million jobs since last February, which includes more than 2.3 million who have dropped out of the labor force entirely because they have to care for their family,” Ma said.
Seventeen state treasurers signed the joint letter to congressional leaders advocating for a version of paid family and medical leave endorsed by President Joe Biden. Signers were from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
The letter, organized by Paid Leave for the United States, said lack of a national policy created “tremendous risk” for the economy and left the United States as the only high-income country without a national paid leave system.