Universal Portable Benefits: The Oregon Model

oregon portable benefits

Ensuring workers have universal portable benefits is both essential to states remaining economical competitive and to workers being able to thrive in a changing economy. Among the leading states, Oregon is making strong moves to prepare their workers for the future economy — and Colorado should be taking notice.

On Monday, July 1, the Oregon state legislature passed a paid family and medical leave program, becoming the eighth state (not including Washington D.C.) to guarantee workers the right to paid leave. Oregon was also one of the first states to implement a retirement security plan in 2017, giving workers two planks of a possible suite of universal portable benefits that empower workers and help businesses compete in the talent marketplace.

Paid Family & Medical Leave

The Colorado legislature worked to create a paid family and medical leave plan for workers throughout the state during the previous legislative session. Though not the definitive outcome advocates wanted, the legislature took a step forward by passing an implementation plan that could start providing benefits in 2023.

Similarly, Oregon will start paying out their benefits under their new law in 2023. Oregon’s plan is getting plaudits from across the country on its comprehensiveness, and it should be a strong example for Colorado to build upon. Oregon’s plan will give 100 percent wage replacement for a low-wage worker taking leave — the strongest wage replacement in the country — and provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Oregon also expanded the definition of “family” to include the LGBTQ+ community, and of “caregivers” to include disabled and older workers. Furthermore, victims of domestic violence are eligible for paid leave in a way they are not in other states.

Oregon’s law follows the model Colorado is working to implement very closely, one the Bell and Colorado organizations have been advocating for. Important tenets of the plan include:

  • Paid leave is extended to all workers, including the self-employed and gig workers
  • Employers and employees split the cost of the premium — in Oregon’s case, 60 percent of the premium from the employee and 40 percent from the employer
  • The benefits are portable, meaning they are tied to the worker and not the employer, and the worker can access the benefits even when changing jobs (with some caveats)

As Colorado moves forward with a plan for paid family and medical leave, we should build upon the example provided by states such as Oregon. With eight states having passed legislation on this issue, Colorado is in danger of becoming less economically competitive than our peers.

Retirement Security

Oregon has been at the forefront of creating easy and effective mechanisms for workers to save for retirement. OregonSaves, the name of the retirement security program the state administers, has been a huge success for Oregon businesses and workers. According to Ascensus, the firm that administers the plan, since 2017, when the plan was just a pilot, Oregon workers have saved more than $16 million for retirement. That is across 126,000 employees in the program.

The Bell Policy Center has touted Oregon’s model for retirement savings and have urged Colorado to move in a similar direction. Fortunately, Colorado has made strides, including passing a bill this past legislative session to put together a board to make recommendations to the legislature on the best way to give Coloradans opportunities to save for retirement.

Oregon’s model of an opt-out system for employees, with an opportunity for all workers to pay in and the ability to be portable, is the type of system that Colorado and other states need to follow to maximize retirement availability for workers.

The Takeaway

Colorado is slowly moving toward adopting universal portable benefits available to all workers throughout the state. But other states, like Oregon, are racing ahead of Colorado. Oregon looked to states that have set up paid family leave and adopted a program similar to, but unique to its own circumstances, those states. On retirement, they decided to phase in a program to help its residents and it is has shown great progress.

As other states ramp up efforts to create 21st century benefits for workers and employers, businesses will use these initiatives to help decide where to set up offices. If Colorado continues to lag behind, we may lose much of our competitive edge. Our state needs to innovate and help workers achieve success in the 21st century. That means putting forward universal portable benefits that can help all Coloradans reach economic mobility. The time to lead was yesterday, but the time to get it right is now.