Opinion: Paid-leave bill good for Vermont

When the Vermont House passed H.107, an act relating to paid family and medical leave insurance, this past April, 92 people voted to support the bill with an additional 5 people absent who would likely have voted in favor. It was a strong bill for many reasons. In this piece, I want to focus on one key component: medical leave, also known as temporary disability insurance or TDI.
Why is TDI so important? Paid medical leave protects workers with serious health needs for whom limited sick time is not enough. It provides extended time off to deal with acute conditions such as cancer or major surgery, chronic conditions like diabetes, or to recover from a serious accident or injury. 
Many workers — especially low-income workers — currently do not have access to adequate paid leave to deal with their own serious illness. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nationwide, about three in five private sector workers do not have access to TDI through their employers, leaving them vulnerable when they need to take time off to take care of their own serious health needs.
Moreover, an overwhelming majority of low-income workers cannot take paid leave to address their serious health needs: nationally, over 80 percent of those in the bottom quarter of earners and nearly 90 percent of those in the bottom tenth of earners lack access to short term disability insurance through their employers. Further, 85 percent of part-time workers lack access to TDI and 75 percent of part-time workers lack access to any paid time off for their own health.
So the people who suffer most by not having access to TDI are those at the lower income levels who can least afford to take unpaid leave. People shouldn’t have to choose between their health and getting a paycheck. It is regressive to not offer TDI to our workers.
TDI is a benefit to employers too. Keeping quality workers on the job saves employers money by reducing turnover. The Center for American Progress reports that the cost to replace a worker is about an additional one-fifth of that employee’s annual wages. 
TDI is also another tool for employee recruitment and retention. TDI has been a mandated program in several states since the 1940s. Rhode Island was first, requiring TDI in 1942. California, New Jersey, and New York followed later that same decade. In fact, in all four of these states, TDI was the foundation upon which a paid family leave program was built. TDI came first. Closer to home, New York requires both TDI and family leave. In Massachusetts, Republican Governor Charlie Baker last year signed a comprehensive economic development package of legislation that included both family care and TDI. Vermont, which we already know has a huge need for more workers, should be jumping on this bandwagon now.
A strong, statewide paid leave insurance program that includes TDI will help level the playing field for small businesses and help foster a strong workforce and healthy economy. It is important for the health, vibrancy and economic security not just for all of us, but also for future generations. 
Robin Scheu is state representative for the Addison-1 District and the lead sponsor of H.107.

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