Labor and Public Employees Committee
JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT ESTABLISHING A TASK FORCE TO STUDY FAMILY MEDICAL LEAVE INSURANCE.
SPONSORS OF BILL:
The Labor and Public Employees Committee
REASONS FOR BILL:
Employees finding it necessary to take a leave of absence from work are burdened with financial problems. The current guidelines requiring employment at businesses with over 50 employees and a1000-1200 hours of work per week eliminate many people from using leave of absence.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Sharon Palmer, Commissioner, Department of Labor testified that many workers find themselves without financial support during leaves of absence pursuant to the CT Family and Medical Act Leave. This bill would research the laws of other states to determine the effects and what would best benefit Connecticut.
Kevin Lembo, State Comptroller said that nearly 50% of employees eligible are not able to take advantage under the FMLA became they are employed where there are less than 50 employees or because they could not afford the loss of income. Only 11% of the workforce has paid family leave through their employers. In a study done relating to California Family Medical Leave Insurance, they found that there was usually no cost related to implementation because the work of the employee was assigned to other people.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Nora Duncan, State Director, AARP testified that this bill provides an opportunity to bring to the table a variety of issues and options that may provide relief to employees in difficult health care situations without placing burdens on employers or the State of Connecticut. She said “the 711,000 family caregivers in Connecticut gave 465 million hours of free home care worth $5.8 billion in 2009. When family care givers are supported, they are better able to provide free care, reducing the incidences and costs of hospitalizations and institutional care, something the business community, advocates and families all agree makes for good common sense policy.”
Amanda Seltzer, Student, UCONN School of Social Work testified that it is extremely important for that task force to include members of the public who represent organizations that advocate for individuals with chronic or acute illnesses. She stressed that income lost while caretaking a sick family member is unfair and unacceptable. She said “I can honestly say I do not know what my family's financial situation would be today had we had to fully rely on my mother as my sole caretaker with no income at the time we needed it most. Cancer is an expensive disease. Each treatment cost thousands of dollars; 12 chemotherapy rounds, 6 rounds of a targeted drug, as well as 30 radiation treatments. How can a child fighting for their life manage the cost of quality care if their parents are on unpaid leave? Doesn't this seem wrong? If FMLA allows parents the right to care for a child in order to watch them survive and succeed, how can we not provide the tools and finances to properly do so?”
Christine Palm, Communications Director, PCSW , said “My husband and I are the primary caretakers of our elderly mothers, both of whom are 92” She considers herself fortunate because her husband is self-employed and creates his own schedule, but this comes at a price since he must juggle his schedule and often must work on weekends and evenings to meet his commitments to his clients. She said “So, I respectfully ask that you allow me to speak for them. If those of us who take hundreds of unremunerated hours off each year to take our mothers with dementia to the doctor, to physical therapy after a fall, not to mention stay at home with our kids when they get the flu – if all of us had the means to pay into a plan that would provide a little financial cushion, all of our families would benefit.”
Jillian Gilchrest, Assistant Policy Director, CT Association for Human Services testified that many Connecticut workers are not covered or eligible for FMLA and often those that are cannot afford an unpaid leave. She said that according to a study of the American Journal of Medicine, more than 40% of bankruptcies are the result of lost wages due to serious illnesses. As the baby boomer generation ages, the need for elder care will increase causing a greater need for family medical leave insurance. She said “Unlike California and New Jersey, which built their Family Medical Insurance programs out of their existing state-run Temporary Disability Insurance programs, Connecticut will need to determine how to administer and fund its FMLI and who will be eligible to participate. Since 1990, 334,924 Connecticut workers have used FMLA to secure their job while on leave for up to 16 weeks. 67% of these workers did so because of their own illness.”
Maggie Adair, Executive Director, CT Early Childhood Alliance testified that only half of all workers nationally are both covered and eligible for FMLA. Furthermore, often eligible employees find taking unpaid sick leave is unaffordable. At some point in their life everyone will need to take leave for various reasons. This bill will help those in need.
Sara Frankel, Public Policy Director for Children, Youth and Young Adults, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) testified that this bill is needed since it relates to providing short-term benefits to workers who must care for a seriously ill child, spouse or parent as well as individuals who live with a serious mental illness. Family Medical Leave Insurance would provide relief for individuals who themselves are living with mental illness to take the time they need to manage their illness while at the same time maintaining their place of employment.
Teresa C. Younger, Executive Director, The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women testified women make up 48% of Connecticut's workforce. It is essential to support them as they provide care for family members or take care of their own health. However, 3 in 4 employees who needed to take FMLA could not afford to the financial loss. Working women of the sandwich generation (simultaneously caring for dependent children and elderly parents) are especially vulnerable. This bill could result in recommendations that provide financial and economic stability for Connecticut workers.
Amy Miller, Program and Public Policy Director, CT Women's Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) said the current FMLA system causes families severe economic hardships during already stressful times. When workers have access to paid leave they tend to remain in the workforce and rely less on public assistance and food stamp benefits. A study of California's Family Leave Insurance Program reported either a cost savings or no additional cost associated after implementation.
Karen Schuessler, Director, Citizens for Economic Opportunity (CEO), said “Family and Medical Leave Insurance is a political, social and workers' rights issue. The aging of our nation's population and the increase in the baby boomer generation will increase the need for Family and Medical Leave Insurance. Managed care has shortened hospital stays which means more and more families spend a greater amount of time providing care. California has led the way and enacted the first government- run Paid Family Leave program in 2004. It is funded through contributions of workers through a 1.2% payroll tax that covers both state disability and paid family leave. Small businesses (those with less than 100 employees) were less likely than large corporations to report any negative effects. Employers had either a cost savings or no additional cost associate with implementation because they temporarily assigned the work to other employees or hired temporary replacements.”
Lori Pelletier, Secretary-Treasurer, CT AFL-CIO testified that this program provided families with protected time off to care for a sick family member or themselves without fear of losing their job or other forms of retaliation. This bill is the next logical set to provide pay when an employee has no other choice but to utilize FMLA.
Michelle Griswold, Chair, Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition, testified that there is an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that cites breastfeeding as one of the most important preventive strategies for a number of acute/chronic illnesses. Lower income and educational level mothers are those most likely to bear an unfair burden of risk for poorer health compared to others. Without family medical leave insurance, mothers are forced to choose between long-term heath for themselves and their children and uninterrupted income.
Sarah Esty, CT Voices for Children testified that many workers are unable to take advantage of FMLA because they aren't eligible or work at firms too small to be covered or without sufficient employment tenure. A large number of employees can't afford the lost pay from taking time off. Of the workers who did take time off with reduced or no pay; 15% went on public assistance, and 30% were force to borrow money. She stated 4 questions that must be answered in developing the system: “Who pays into the system? Which workers are eligible? Who operates the system? What amount of payment are workers able to receive?”
Susan Lloyd Yolen, Vice President, Public Policy and Advocacy, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England said “the cost of home caregivers, assisted living facilities and skilled nursing homes is high. Many employees are balancing the needs of ailing elders while also raising children. Connecticut should be proactive in developing a sound family leave insurance policy that other states may consider. This can lead to a more stable, productive workforce, decrease dependence on public assistance and possibly even save employers money in overtime.
Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness, Inc. submitted written testimony stating that private short-term and long-term policies are not viable options for chronically ill workers. Providers are permitted to deny the issuance of policies to persons with pre-existing chronic conditions.
National Organization of Women (NOW) submitted written testimony stating this bill would enable women workers to care for themselves and their families and still maintain economic stability. A National Partnership for Women and Families report said that new mothers and fathers who take paid sick leave are less likely to need public assistance than those who do not.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Reported by: Marie Knudsen
Date: March 25, 2013