I am writing to counter recent arguments that Connecticut’s economic woes mean that we can’t afford to pass ‘compassionate’ bills like House Bill 5387, AN ACT CONCERNING PAID FAMILY MEDICAL LEAVE, despite strong bipartisan support inside the legislature and outside in the real world. Frankly, I am surprised by the lack of vision shown by opponents of the bill. How can we move forward and build our economy without creative solutions? The House passed HB 5386 last week by a vote of 142-4 and I would urge the Senate to move quickly to send it to the governor’s desk.
House Bill 5387 will establish a paid family medical leave system in Connecticut to provide support for workers who need to take time off from work to care for themselves or a loved one. Connecticut families should not be subjected to additional stress at times of crisis or driven to choose between economic ruin and caring for their families in times of illness. Paid family leave is a self-funded program that does NOT require an annual appropriation of state funds. This model has been successful in California and others states and an actuarial analysis commissioned by our legislature in 2015 has found that it would work here without causing an economic burden on the state.
I conducted brief interviews on this subject. Young parents pushing strollers were enthusiastic and shared stories of their financial sacrifice to take maternity leave, often cut short by economic necessity. Older women shared regrets, thinking of jobs or opportunities lost in order to care for a parent or sick spouse, and hopeful that it could be better for their daughters.
Most of us have our own stories like this or know others who have been affected even more deeply. That most likely explains why there is such strong support for paid family medical leave in Connecticut; a 2016 AARP poll found 83 percent of Connecticut voters supported PFML. Nationally, the concept enjoys bipartisan support.
Other states in our region, including New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, have already passed similar bills. Massachusetts is likely to follow suit soon. The additional benefit to workers is likely to attract young, talented employees. Businesses see the advantages of having employees who stay with them, have higher morale and greater productivity, as has been shown to be the case in California businesses.
We cannot wait for Connecticut to right its economic ship before moving toward a future where we will attract young people to settle in our state. Paid family medical leave, together with other creative measures, can be a part of the solution to our economic woes. Holding back will not get us to a better place, we need vision, and yes, compassion, to offer Connecticut citizens the quality of life we deserve.
Susan Eastwood of Ashford is a board member of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women in Connecticut.