Paid Medical Leave Legislative Hearing Raises Issues

By Martha Stoddard / World­Herald Bureau | Posted: Saturday, September 26, 2015 12:30 am

LINCOLN — Cary Mohiuddin gives thanks every day that her family’s nearly fouryear
nightmare has not been worse. The Omaha woman still has her job and her paycheck. And the family hasn’t lost the health insurance that proved so vital when her husband’s strep throat turned into lifethreatening septic shock.
Mohiuddin credits her employer, Collective for Youth, with being supportive and
flexible. But she knows many other workers are not as lucky.
That’s why she came to Lincoln on Friday to urge the Legislature’s Business and Labor
Committee to consider creating a paid family and medical leave program.
“This kind of scenario happens to families every day, everywhere,” she said. “I am not unique.”
Mohiuddin testified at a hearing held as part of an interim study introduced by State Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue.
Crawford said she is looking into the idea of a Nebraska paid family leave program that would operate much like unemployment insurance. Workers would be required to pay into the program. Those collected funds then would provide at least partial pay when workers need to take leave to care for a family member or if the workers have health problems themselves.
Crawford said a national researcher calculated the program could operate on payments of $1.38 per employee, per week. That would provide workers with two ­thirds of their regular pay for up to 12 weeks leave for their own health or the birth or adoption of a child and up to 6 weeks leave for the care of a family member.
She said the calculations assumed that the program would cover everyone working for employers with four or more employees.
The program could be used by parents of newborn babies, as well as workers caring for seriously ill children, injured spouses, dying parents or even battling their own health problems, Crawford said.
“Families are the bedrock of our society,” she said. “For too long, we have ignored the fact that we need workers to be able to care for their families, not just for their own sake but for the sake of all of the rest of us.”
The idea was met with plenty of questions from committee members.
Several questions concerned how a state program would operate, including whether it would cover part­time employees and people who are self­employed.
Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins called the state paid leave idea a “monstrosity.”
He questioned Melanie Clark, the owner of Clark Creative Group, an Omaha­based marketing firm, on why the state needs to be involved with paid family leave. Clark Creative offers paid family leave voluntarily.
Clark, who advocated for the state program, responded that not enough employers are following her lead. Only 12 percent of workers in the United States have paid parental leave. In contrast, paid parental or maternity leave is universal for workers in almost all other countries, Crawford said.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows workers to take unpaid leave without risking their jobs. The act applies to employers of 50 or more workers.

Other advocates said Friday that paid family and medical leave programs have been proven to benefit employers and the state. Parents with access to paid leave are less likely to wind up on public assistance after the birth of a child, said Juliet Summers of Voices for Children in Nebraska.
Studies show that paid leave programs help employers retain experienced workers and reduce costly turnover, she said.
Contact the writer: 402­473­9583, martha.stoddard@owh.com

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