State AARP President: Working Marylanders Need Access to Paid Family Leave

AARP
Photo by Hannah Gaskill.

Imagine you want to care for your seriously ill mother or your newborn baby or a loved one suffering from long-term effects of COVID-19. But because you work in a job without paid family leave, you must decide whether you will keep earning a living or quit work to do what you feel really matters in life – caring for a beloved family member. You feel anxious and worried about what to do and how to cope.

This is not a theoretical situation. We hear regularly from hard-working Marylanders who must choose between the job they need and the family they love when critical needs arise.

Consider working parents in the sandwich generation – people who care for their parents and children younger than 18. They face difficult choices when family emergencies arise, often feeling exhausted and guilty about not giving enough support to both their parents and kids. Twelve percent of American parents are part of the sandwich generation, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

Working women are especially impacted by the lack of paid family leave since they are most likely to be family caregivers. In Maryland, 80% of Black mothers, 51% of Latina mothers and 50% of White mothers are key family breadwinners, and overall, 64% of women in Maryland are part of the labor force.

The United States is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee some form of paid family leave for workers, leaving too many Marylanders to face impossible choices. It does not have to be this way – as nine states and the District of Columbia have proven by creating paid family and medical leave laws. Maryland can join this list by passing legislation to create a paid family leave insurance program (SB 211/HB 375).

The bill creates a family and medical leave insurance program that will provide paid leave to Maryland workers no matter the size of the company where they work. Self-employed people can also opt in to the program. The leave will be funded through a state-administered insurance pool into which employers and employees contribute equally.

A worker earning the average Maryland wage would pay $3.62 a week for a benefit that will give them the opportunity to take care of their families. An employee earning the minimum wage would pay $1.57 per week.

The program would pay out a portion of a worker’s salary during the leave, with a progressive benefit structure. Low-income workers would receive a higher proportion of their weekly wage in order to make taking leave viable. When taking paid leave, low-income employees will receive up to 90% of their weekly pay. At higher income levels, employees receive 50% of their weekly pay. The partial wage replacement will range from a minimum of $50 per week to a maximum of $1,000 per week, for a maximum period of 12 weeks.

Paid family leave is different from sick leave, which is used for short illnesses. It is also different from the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides certain workers with unpaid leave for family emergencies.

The pandemic has only reminded us how challenging it can be for working people to balance jobs and family emergencies. Maryland should act and provide workers with an option that allows them to meet their family needs without generating financial hardship.

Working Marylanders and their families should have access to workplace leave benefits that enable them to fulfill both their caregiving and paid work responsibilities. This legislation provides a path to do that.

— JIM CAMPBELL

The writer is the AARP Maryland state president.