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Opinion: Vermont must improve our paid medical leave law

On Feb. 5, 1993, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) passed with bipartisan support, marking a significant step for millions across the country by guaranteeing access to job-protected unpaid time off to welcome a new child, care for a family member, or tend to one’s own illness or injury.
FMLA provides access to up to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave for employees who work for larger companies — those with 50 or more employees. Yet only 60 percent of workers nationwide are even eligible under the law and for those who are eligible, many can’t afford to take it. Years ago, Vermont expanded upon this federal law to pass the Parental and Family Leave Act (PFLA), ensuring job-protected, unpaid leave would be accessible to those who also work for smaller businesses as well.
Despite this major step forward, the problem of accessibility to workers remains, because this leave remains unpaid. In fact, a recent FMLA survey showed that nearly half of workers who needed leave did not take it, mostly because they could not afford to take time without pay.
Both FMLA and PFLA have been monumental for people and families across the U.S. for 26 years. But we must go further. Thankfully, the Vermont legislature is putting forth a proposal that would do just that.
This year, I am working to advance H. 107, the paid family and medical leave bill. This bill would ensure every working Vermonter access to paid time to welcome a new child, recover from illness or injury, or care for a loved one. This public program is a tried-and-true model that has been successful in states across the country.
A strong, universal paid family and medical leave program for all working Vermonters will support the health, wellbeing, and economic security of our children, families, and small businesses, and ensure that the next generation has a bright future.
This approach will help boost our economy by supporting our existing workforce and helping attract more people to the state to live, work, and raise families. It also will help level the playing field for small businesses that struggle to be able to offer robust benefit packages to their employees and compete with larger companies that can.
A strong, universal paid family and medical leave insurance program is a key part of building a Vermont that works for all of us. As we celebrate the 26th anniversary of the FMLA this week, I am hopeful for the future of Vermont. Vermonters and Vermont legislators across party lines overwhelmingly agree that we all need paid family and medical leave. I’m looking forward to working together to move forward a strong bill this year that guarantees every Vermonter will have access to paid family and medical leave.
Rep. Robin Scheu represents Middlebury and East Middlebury in the Vermont House.

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