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Mainers Rally for Paid Family, Medical Leave This Session

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Thursday, February 24, 2022   

Dozens of Maine residents came together at the State House yesterday, calling on the Legislature to pass a bill this session to implement a paid family- and medical-leave policy.

A bill signed into law last year created a commission to study the best way to implement such a policy, but they may not propose legislation until 2023, and advocates for working families say it's too urgent to wait.

Destie Hohman Sprague, executive director of the Maine Women's Lobby, noted the Legislature is preparing a budget with a more than $800 million surplus, and she said the time is now to put some of those funds toward paid family and medical leave.

"Everyone at some point in their lives needs to be able to care for a new baby, for their selves after surgery or injury or illness, for an aging parent or spouse," Hohman Sprague outlined. "We in the United States are one of only two developed countries that do not have a system of paid family and medical leave."

Speakers at Wednesday's rally shared stories of having to make the choice between a paycheck and caring for a loved one, and some said they struggled to meet basic needs taking unpaid time off from work.

Massachusetts implemented a paid family- and medical-leave policy in 2018, and a recent report commissioned by Mainers for Working Families showed it has improved the lives of both workers and their employers, and providing the ability to take time off when needed improves employee engagement, morale and productivity.

Hohman Sprague noted most employers in Maine are small employers, and may not have the reserves to keep paying employees who are not coming into work.

"An insurance program pools folks together and solves that problem by creating infrastructure to make sure those people can still get paid, but the burden is not on the small businesses to meet that need," Hohman Sprague pointed out.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act ensures people can take unpaid leave for up to 12 work weeks in a 12-month period for specified reasons, such as the birth of a child or an immediate family member's serious illness.

Maine's current paid-leave law requires businesses with more than 10 employees to allow workers to accrue one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked, and they can cap it at 40 hours, or five eight-hour work days.


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