Paid Leave is Important for Montana

Thursday, February 9th 2017
Helena Independent Record, Missoulian, and Montana Standard

At some point, nearly every worker faces a moment when they need leave, whether it’s to care for an aging parent, help a family member after surgery, recover from their own illness or injury, or welcome a new child into the family.

As the Montana Legislature debates ways to improve the lives of Montanans, I wanted to take a moment to highlight one important issue. Paid family and medical leave has been making national headlines, and here in Montana we have the opportunity to design a plan that is unique to the needs of our state, is affordable for business and employees, and helps both families and our economy.

Some of us are fortunate to have employers who provide time off for maternity leave or vacation time that can be used for medical reasons. Unfortunately, most working Montanans do not have access to any paid leave, and they are forced to make impossible choices between their paycheck and the health of themselves and their families.

The United States is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee workers paid leave. Only 13 percent of working Americans have access through their employers. Many people think that the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) helps, but the reality is that this law is not enough. It provides some employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. Many people do not qualify because they work too few hours or work for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. In Montana, only one out of three workers qualify for the FMLA. Even for those who do qualify, many workers cannot afford to take unpaid leave.

Four states have successfully created statewide insurance programs that provide workers access to paid family and medical leave benefits. Through these statewide plans, workers receive a portion of their wages for a defined number of weeks to bond with a new child, recover from a serious illness or injury, or care for a loved one with a serious illness.

We can do this in Montana. We can implement a program to cover most workers, and help families make ends meet during some of the most wonderful or most difficult times of their lives. Most importantly, we can do this with modest monthly premiums. Estimates suggest that for an employee making $40,000 a year, premiums would be around $15 per month.

It is time for Montana to invest in solutions that help families balance home and work responsibilities. Montanans need and deserve the time to support themselves and their families when they are sick.

We can do this. It is affordable. It is important. Paid family and medical leave is good for moms, dads, kids, seniors, businesses, the economy, and most importantly, families.

Representative Jenny Eck – Guest Editorial

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