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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Sarah McBride Introduces Landmark Paid Family and Medical Leave Legislation

January 24, 2022


DOVER – Paid family and medical leave will finally become a reality for thousands of working Delaware families under legislation introduced by Sen. Sarah McBride and Rep. Debra Heffernan on Monday.

Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 1 includes a number of revisions to the initial Healthy Delaware Families Act introduced last May based on discussions with the small business community, medical professionals, working families, state legislators and the Carney Administration.

“Through good-faith negotiations and a shared desire to make life better for working families, Delaware will succeed where Congress fell short. With these compromises, we will pass paid leave, strengthening our local business community and providing workers with one of the most impactful new employment benefits in our state’s history,” said Sen. McBride, D-North Wilmington.

“Passing this bill will ensure thousands of families in Delaware never again face an impossible choice between earning a paycheck and welcoming a newborn, caring for a sick loved one or adjusting to a recent military deployment,” she said. “Paid leave works for families. Paid leave works for businesses. And paid leave will work for Delaware.”

SS 1 for SB 1 earned an endorsement from Gov. John Carney, who highlighted the legislation in his State of the State Address on Jan. 20.

“We should do everything we can to support businesses and the employees who work there,” Governor Carney said on Monday. “Younger workers aren’t just looking for a job; they’re looking for a way of life. Sen. McBride’s legislation will build on the work we’ve done for state employees and extend paid leave into the private sector. It’s the right thing to do, and it will help attract a talented workforce to live, work, and raise their families in Delaware. Thank you to Sen. McBride, Rep. Heffernan and the other legislators leading this effort.”

More than 50 Delaware-based organizations also have called on the General Assembly to pass paid family and medical leave legislation, including the Delaware chapters of the AARP, the League of Women Voters, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Delaware Nurses Association, as well as local labor unions, congregations, businesses, and many other groups.

“We set the example by becoming one of the first states to establish paid parental leave for state employees and teachers. Now it’s time for us to take another step toward ensuring every worker in Delaware has access to paid family and medical leave,” said Rep. Heffernan, D-Bellefonte. “Our parental leave program has been an undeniable success, improving the health and wellbeing of families while boosting state employee recruitment and retention. As we did before in creating a program for state workers, Delaware must again lead on leave.”

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 receives 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 experience disproportionate consequences of unpaid family and medical leave, 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 a mom, public health nurse and Lieutenant Governor, I know families who have faced hardships and tough choices to care for loved ones. Paid family leave will provide a critical safety net for the nearly 60% of Delaware’s workforce who do not have paid family leave. It will also enable businesses to retain their workforce as employees will not be compelled to exit the workforce to care for their family,” Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long said. “I commend Senator McBride, Representative Heffernan, the business community and advocates who worked on the legislation. Paid family leave is the right action at the right time as we cope with the impact of the pandemic on Delaware’s families and businesses.”

SS 1 for SB 1 would provide a simple and affordable solution to alleviate some commonly experienced financial pressures. The legislation would create a family and medical leave trust fund in Delaware modeled after similar programs already operating in nine other states and the District of Columbia. States with paid leave programs have seen higher worker morale and productivity, lower turnover costs for businesses and greater economic security for working families.

Funded through small payroll contributions equal to less than 1% of an employee’s weekly pay and split evenly between a worker and their employer, the trust fund would cover up to 80% of an eligible worker’s wages for up to 12 weeks total of paid family and medical leave.

Under the substitute introduced Monday, eligible workers will be entitled to up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave a year, including 12 weeks of parental leave and six weeks of family caregiving, medical and military leave.

The substitute bill would make qualifying events covered by Delaware’s paid family and medical leave consistent with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act with regard to the kind of leave covered, eligibility requirements to take leave, and the law’s covered relationships.

Unlike the original legislation, the substitute does not automatically cover businesses with fewer than 10 employees for parental leave, nor does it automatically cover businesses with fewer than 25 employees for family caregiving and medical leave, although those companies would retain the option of participating if they so choose.

The substitute bill also delays implementation with the premium beginning in 2025 and the benefits beginning in 2026.

“When I was working as a Neurosurgical Physician Assistant, my very small employer did not have the ability to offer paid time off,” State Treasurer Colleen Davis said. “That required that I work until the day I went into labor with each of my children, so while closing a cranial incision I signaled to the OR staff that I was going to walk myself down to maternity for care. A few hours after delivery, I had life-threatening anaphylaxis. My husband faced caring for our children, me, and the uncertainty of a new diagnosis as well as the financial burden of being the only source of income. Delawareans should not have to face those burdens alone. I support this legislation and look forward to my office’s role in safeguarding the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Account Fund and ensuring Delawareans have peace of mind when faced with a family or medical event.”

“It’s past time to pass Paid Family Leave. Now more than ever, our state needs to recognize the compassion of caregivers of all kinds, and to prioritize it in our laws and our budget,” State Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro said. “I’m proud that the Healthy Delaware Families Act recognizes a wider array of parenthood and family leave needs that are often left out of the national conversation.”

Leadership in both the Senate and House have committed to passing SS 1 for SB 1 this year.
“Ensuring a strong framework of paid family and medical leave for private workers in Delaware will forge long-lasting progress on health outcomes, employee retention, and our ability to attract and retain businesses throughout our state,” Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend said. “The Healthy Delaware Families Act is both a compassionate solution to real day-to-day problems faced by Delawareans and smart economic policy. I am committed to passing SS 1 for SB 1 this year so that Delaware families do not have to make a heart-wrenching choice between caring for their loved ones and keeping food on the table.”

“The reality is that many of us will have to step away from our work to welcome a new family member, recover from an illness, or care for our loved ones. Unfortunately, without a safety net like paid leave, workers are left to deal with these life-altering events without job security or financial stability,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst said. “We need a comprehensive paid family and medical leave program here in Delaware so that workers can meet their urgent personal and family needs without fearing the loss of a job or missing a paycheck.”
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.

“COVID-19 wreaked havoc on small businesses like mine, in Delaware and across the country, but after everything that’s happened over the past two years, one lesson that I’ve learned more than any other: workers deserve paid leave to take care of themselves and their loved ones,” said Alisa Morkides, owner of Brew HaHa!. “These benefits make good business sense. Paid leave results in less turnover. In turn, that strengthens our team and our bottom line. No matter the industry, paid leave helps businesses recruit and retain workers, which reduces the cost of constantly needing to hire and train new staff members.”

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.

President Joe Biden last year became the first U.S. President in history to propose a comprehensive, national paid leave as part of his American Families Plan, an ambitious $1.8 trillion investment in the care economy that remains stalled by Congressional gridlock.

“As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, one of my top legislative priorities has been giving families and individuals the tools they need to reenter the workforce and help spur our economy. All available evidence shows us that one of the best tools for economic growth is giving families certainty through paid family and medical leave,” Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester said. “As I continue to fight for comprehensive legislation in Washington for paid family and medical leave, it’s incredibly encouraging to see Senator McBride, Governor Carney, and all of the leadership in the State House and Senate fight to ensure that Delawareans have the tools they need as we build our economy back better.”

SS 1 for SB 1 is slated to be considered in the Senate Health and Social Services Committee, chaired by Sen. McBride, on Wednesday.