Paid Family Leave, An idea Whose Time Has Come
Earlier this month, I volunteered at the Cleveland International Film Festival and while I was there I saw many movies. The film festival showcases many movies from independent film makers, documentaries and foreign movies. This year’s film festival featured almost 500 full length movies and shorts from 72 different countries. It also attracted more than 105,000 people during its 12 day run at the Tower City Cinemas and several neighborhood screenings, making it one of the largest film festivals in the world.
One of the movies that I saw this year was a documentary about the lack of paid family leave in the United States. The title of that movie was Zero Weeks. It was 25 years ago this year that new President Bill Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that granted up to 13 weeks of unpaid leave for dealing with family medical needs such as a new baby or a serious illness of a family member.
But the FMLA only covers less than half of American workers. Exempted from the FMLA are employees of small businesses of less than 50 employees, the self employed and part time employees. In addition, FMLA only grants up to 13 weeks of unpaid leave, so many workers just cannot afford to miss that much time away from work without a paycheck. As a result, less than 20% of American workers take advantage of FMLA.
But the rest of the world has an answer. That is a system of government sponsored and funded paid family leave. In those countries, paid family leave is funded through a government administered insurance program similar to social security. Employees and employers pay payroll taxes that establish a fund from which this paid family leave is made. In the nations where this has been done, there is very little abuse of the benefit and those workers who are benefitting from paid family leave are much happier and more productive.
For example, the United Kingdom offers 40 weeks of paid family leave, Vietnam 26 weeks, Bangladesh 16 weeks, Canada 15 weeks, Mexico 12 weeks and Iran 12 weeks. The United States and Papua New Guinea are the only nations in the world that do not offer any paid family leave as government policy.
But this idea is gaining momentum at the state level in the United States. Already eleven states, including New York and California have passed legislation establishing a state insurance fund for paid family leave that covers all employees, even part time and self employed workers. In those states that have had it the longest, there has been very little abuse and no exodus of businesses out of the state and in fact the opposite has happened. The presence of paid family leave in California has enabled many companies there to attract the best and most talented workers and that prompted a similar program in Washington.
As competition increases for the world’s most talented workers, things such as paid family leave is becoming increasingly a benefit that will work against states and countries that do not offer this benefit. In my career of advising small businesses on matters such as employee benefits, one complaint that I often heard from a business owner was their ability to attract and retain good employees.
Most people believe that paid family leave would only affect workers when there is a new baby in the home. But paid family leave would also be applicable where a parent or working adult is needed to care for a child or family member with a serious illness or an aging parent. Like social security, paid family leave could affect every worker in the United States, even single adults with no dependents. If you were to have a serious illness, paid family leave could make the difference between a healthy recovery medically and financially or recovering medically but ending up bankrupt and financially ruined.
Clearly paid family leave is an idea whose time has come in the United States. The United States is no longer alone in the world. Our economy and national security is tied to every other nation in the world. The 21st century is the century of a truly global economy and if the United States is going to be a leader, paid family leave should be adopted nationwide not just in eleven states.
FYI, the Cleveland International Film Festival next year is scheduled from Wednesday March 27 through Sunday April 7 2019 and will be at the Tower City Cinemas downtown.
Lee has been working with Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance since he began working at the Erie County Welfare Department in January 1973 where a major part of his job was determining eligibility for Medicaid. He went into the private insurance business in 1977 with Prudential Insurance Company and within a short time had become one of the company’s top sales agents. In 1982, he was promoted into management where he managed two field offices and as many as thirteen sales agents. After leaving Prudential in 1986, Lee decided to become more focused on health insurance and employee benefits. He has advised many local employers on how to have a more cost effective employee benefit program as well as conducted employee benefit meetings and enrollments for many area employers. The companies Lee has worked with ranged from small “mom and pop” businesses to local operations of large national companies. Lee received his B.S. degree from Kent State University where he has been active in the local alumni association. He has completed seven of the ten courses toward the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation. He has taught courses in employee benefits and insurance at Cleveland State University and local community colleges. In addition, Lee is an experienced and accomplished public speaker. He has been a member of Toastmasters International where he achieved the designation of “Able Toastmaster – Silver” in 1994. He has also served as a club president, Area Governor and District Public Relations Officer in Toastmasters as well as winning local speech contests. Lee has also been a member of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association’s Speaker’s Bureau where he was designated as one of the “official spokespeople for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” prior to the hall’s opening in 1995. He has given talks and presentations before many audiences including civic organizations, AARP chapters and many other community groups. With the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act (Medicare drug bill) in 2006, Lee has shifted his focus to Medicare and helping Medicare beneficiaries navigate the often confusing array of choices and plans available. As an independent representative, Lee is not bound to any one specific company or plan, but he can offer a plan that suits an individual person’s needs and budget. In addition, Lee is well versed in the requirements and availability of various programs for assistance with Medicare part D as well as Medicaid. While he cannot make one eligible, he can assist in the process and steer one to where they may be able to receive assistance.