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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Sarah McBride Sponsors Bill to Bring Paid Family and Medical Leave to Delaware Workers

May 5, 2021


DOVER – Sen. Sarah McBride introduced legislation Wednesday that will ensure Delaware workers can access up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave through a statewide insurance program when they experience a serious illness, welcome a new child or need help adjusting to recent military deployment, among other qualifying events.

The Healthy Delaware Families Act would represent one of the most impactful new employment benefits in Delaware history.

“More than anything else, this pandemic has shown us just how desperately Delaware’s working families need common-sense policies that work for them,” Sen. McBride said.
“No family should ever have to make the impossible choice between earning a paycheck and quitting their job to stay at home with a newborn or care for a family member who is fighting for their life. This legislation will give working Delawareans the security and peace of mind that comes from knowing they will be able to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads even while facing some of the most common challenges we experience as human beings.”

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act passed by Congress in 1993 provides some workers with job protections when they need extended absences of work for medical and family reasons. But workers are not guaranteed any pay during those 12 weeks, and a significant portion of Delaware’s workforce receive no protections at all under the law.

Currently, fewer than 1 in 5 workers nationwide has access to paid family leave through their employer – a lack of financial security that costs working families in the United States about $22.5 billion in lost wages each year.

In Delaware, nearly 60% of workers do not have access to even unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Women – particularly women of color – tend to suffer the most serious consequences, with 82% of Black mothers, 56% of Latina mothers and 48% of white mothers being the primary breadwinners in their households.

According to at least one survey, 1 in 4 working women who give birth return to work within two weeks because they cannot afford to go any longer without pay. Meanwhile, the vast majority of low-wage earners have zero access to paid leave, meaning they are often forced to leave the workforce when they develop serious health conditions, have a seriously ill family member or become parents.

“As many of us know, illness and family crises can happen at any time in our lives. No one should ever have to choose between their health, job or assisting a family member in need,” said Rep. Debra Heffernan, the lead House sponsor of the Healthy Delaware Families Act.

“Expanding leave is a commonsense approach to achieving healthier work environments,” she said. “It can be stressful for a person to exhaust their regular sick leave in order to make ends meet when emergencies arise, or when they are experiencing what should be a most joyous time: welcoming a new family member. This bill compliments the state’s current parental leave bill and will make Delaware a leader by offering an attractive benefit to job seekers, leading to better recruitment and retention of workers in the state.”

Senate Bill 1 would provide a simple and affordable solution to alleviate those financial pressures and unlock the economic potential of Delaware’s working families.

The bill would create a family and medical trust fund in Delaware modeled after similar programs already passed in nine other states and the District of Columbia. The program would be funded through payroll contributions, equaling less than 1% of an employee’s weekly pay and split evenly between a worker and their employer. Businesses with fewer than 20 workers would not be required to pay the employer half of the premium, but their workers would still be covered – leveling the playing field for small businesses so they can provide this new benefit at little or no cost.

Eligible Delaware workers could then receive up to 80% of their average weekly wages through the state insurance program when forced to take extended time off from work due to a major medical event.

“People should be able to enjoy family, work and life without feeling stressed about their finances. Diversity in workplace benefits help to achieve balance, especially for those who are less likely to have access to different forms of paid leave,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst said. “I remember the challenge of having to figure out my career and still manage my duties as a full-time parent. By passing SB 1, we will remove that uncertainty and help workers meet their personal and family health care needs without having to worry about job security or other concerns down the road.”

“Perhaps no bill being considered by the 151st General Assembly will have as profound an impact on quality of life in our state as legislation establishing a paid family and medical leave insurance program for Delaware workers,” said Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, D-Newark/Bear.

“A sincere and personal passion for Sen. McBride, paid family and medical leave will keep families out of poverty, strengthen the support network for some of our most vulnerable residents, help our business sector attract workers and reduce costs associated with worker turnover,” he said. “And, as a father of two young boys, I know firsthand that this would help make it possible for all parents to be more involved in caregiving without having to risk their family taking a big financial hit.”

A study of New Jersey’s 12-year-old paid family and medical leave program found that workers who benefitted had higher morale and productivity, while businesses that participated experienced significantly lower turnover.

A 2017 study found women who take paid leave after child birth are more likely to be employed the following year. First-time mothers eligible for paid leave were 26% less likely to quit their jobs and 18% more likely to work for the same employer after the birth of their first child. Parents who take paid leave also reported relying on public assistance less in the year following their child’s birth compared to those without paid leave.

Local workers and business owners are already voicing their support for SB 1.

“I saved up 9-months-worth of tips so I could take exactly six weeks of unpaid leave when my youngest two children were born,” said Ernesta Coursey of Wilmington. “There was no breathing room, you’re concerned and worried about paying your bills. Paid family and medical leave will help lift up our families so we can thrive.”

“When my father became sick with COVID, we didn’t know what to expect. Having a parent hospitalized and a mother sick was a lot to juggle along with virtual learning for my son,” said Charonda Johnson of Townsend. “If my husband had taken time off from work, we would have risked losing his paycheck – it was a choice we simply could not afford. So we powered on, making the best of it in my father’s final days, and after as my family and I planned the memorial service. I am here today because there are thousands of Delawareans who have had to make the same impossible choice that my family did. No one should ever be put in that situation.”

Alisa Morkides, the owner of Brew HaHa!, is among the majority of small business owners nationwide who support paid family and medical leave.

“I support a paid family and medical leave program for a very simple reason: it’s good business,” she said. “It not only helps my employees by giving them a new benefit, but it will help our business reduce turnover and continue to grow and hire within our Delaware community.”

Despite the obvious benefits, the United States remains the only industrialized, modernized country in the world that does not have a paid family medical leave program in place for either parent – a fact President Joe Biden hopes to change with the American Families Plan he unveiled last week.

“I am grateful to President Biden for becoming the first president in U.S. history to put forward a plan to create a comprehensive paid leave program at the national level,” Sen. McBride said. “It is long past time we put this policy in place for all Americans. For me, the only unacceptable outcome is for Delawareans to be forced to go without this critical benefit any longer. If Washington doesn’t get it done, Delaware will.”

Senate Bill 1 has been assigned to the Senate Health and Social Services Committee, chaired by Sen. McBride.