Maine Democrats make push for paid family leave

The Maine Paid Family Leave Coalition on Tuesday launched a renewed push for a paid family and medical leave benefit as the Democratic-controlled Legislature takes up the issue.

Maine Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, and Rep. Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston, who are leading the effort, said there has been no major progress at the federal level for three decades.

‘The United States is the only developed country in the world without a national paid family and medical leave policy, leaving it up to states to piece together solutions,’ Cloutier said.

The bill is still being worked out but it’s expected to allow up to 12 weeks of benefit with up to 90% of pay, to be funded through a payroll tax divided by workers and employers. The Legislature’s Paid Family Leave Commission recommended that businesses with fewer than 15 workers be exempted from participation.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills wrote and signed a bill into law in 2019 allowed earned sick days for workers, and a spokesperson said she’s awaiting final recommendations from the commission for family leave.

‘The governor understands the importance of paid family leave, and she believes it is important that discussions before the Legislature take into consideration the landscape of Maine’s economy and the perspective of Maine employers, particularly small businesses,’ Ben Goodman, the governor’s press secretary, said Tuesday.

The federal government passed a law 30 years ago to make family leave an unpaid benefit. Across the country, 11 states including Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island in New England have since put a paid family and medical leave benefit in place.

Across the country, 20% of private sector workers have access to paid family leave through an employer and only 42% have access to short-term disability insurance, officials said. Nearly one in four mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth, and one in five retirees leave the workforce earlier than expected to care for an ill family member, officials said.

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