What’s the Real Story on FAMLI?

SB19-188, which would create a new paid family and medical leave program, is making its way through the Colorado legislature. Paid family and medical leave’s many well-documented benefits range from increased financial security for family caregivers and better health outcomes for children, to greater workplace retention and morale. Research and personal experience have persuaded people across the political spectrum of paid family and medical leave’s importance, and polls show the majority of Americans support providing these benefits to workers.

But more than all of this, we know without paid family and medical leave, too many Coloradans are choosing between caring for serious health needs — their own or those of a loved one — and a paycheck. This isn’t right, and isn’t representative of a state that prides itself for its worker and family centric values.

Despite both its importance and the fairly straight-forward way it’ll be implemented, we’ve heard a lot of reasons why SB19-188 won’t work for Colorado. Below we take a look at and respond to some of these arguments.

Don’t Coloradans Already Have Access to Paid Family & Medical Leave?

The short answer is no. Research shows only about 17 percent of civilian works have access to paid family and medical leave. We know many employers already provide paid sick days or paid time off, but these are different than paid family and medical leave. The program created through SB19-188 provides protected time off for serious life events — not for when you have a cold or want to go on vacation.

Why Not Make the Program Voluntary?

We know relying upon businesses to voluntarily offer paid family and medical leave will not guarantee all workers have access to needed benefits. Even for businesses that want to offer paid family and medical leave, many find it prohibitively expensive to do so on their own.

And as we’ve previously written, tax credits are not an effective way to incentive employers to begin providing new benefits. If available, tax credits would likely only help large businesses that already offer paid leave and workers making sizable salaries.

Coloradans can’t rely upon voluntary or incentivized adoption of paid family and medical leave. These approaches don’t provide an affordable way for all businesses to offer benefits, and as a result, they can’t ensure all Coloradans have access to paid time off when they need to care for their own medical needs of those of a loved one. However, a social insurance program — as proposed in SB19-188 — can provide these assurances.

Is It Too Costly?

Opponents cite SB19-188’s cost as a reason for opposition. And yes, at first glance, the bill’s fiscal note is large. However, it’s worth taking a moment to dissect and understand these numbers. The fund is large because it’s a universal program, with collectively borne costs. This is the beauty of a social insurance program — we all put in an a little and our contributions add up to something large. In return, each of us has access to a vital program with wide-ranging benefits.

Who’s Paying?

It’s important to remember SB19-188 isn’t funded by our General Fund. The state’s continuing contribution to the program comes from the employer portion of the premium for state employees. Nor is the program funded solely by either employees or employers. Instead, there is shared responsibility. Despite the program’s size, it’s also important to remember a worker making $50,000 a year will only have a premium of about $3 per week.

Bottom Line

At the Bell, we don’t take the creation of a new social insurance program lightly. We know these programs require an investment of resources at a time when growing costs are straining both family and state budgets. We believe any new social insurance program, like the one described in SB19-188, should offer universal benefits, have portability, be sustainable, bring value to our communities, be founded in research, and leverage collective resources in a fiscally responsible manner. The paid family and medical leave program created through SB19-188 does all of this, and we know it’s the right way to bring paid family and medical leave to Colorado.

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