Sen. Sarah McBride proposes paid family, medical depart invoice. What would change

Senator Sarah McBride announced a bill Wednesday to ensure that Delaware workers can receive up to 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave.

Senate Bill 1 would create a nationwide paid family and sick leave insurance program that would be paid for through payroll for specific life events such as serious illness, having a new child, or adapting to military service. People could get up to 80% of their average weekly wage.

The program would be funded by less than 1% of a worker’s weekly wage, evenly divided between the employee and the employer.

Contributions would start in 2023 and benefits would be available in 2024, should the bill pass that session.

Companies with fewer than 20 employees would not have to contribute to the fund, but could still benefit from it. Larger companies would either have to contribute to the sovereign wealth fund or contribute to a private fund that offers the same number of weeks and benefits as the state version.

The proposal was a cornerstone of McBride’s campaign last year when she ran for the open Senate seat, and has since been one of her most ambitious promises during her first term as legislature. She was elected as the country’s first female transgender senator.

For months, McBride has argued that the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated the need for paid vacation. She said that Delaware can’t just fight the virus and then go back to normal – especially after so many people lost their jobs to illness.

During a virtual press conference on Wednesday about her bill, McBride cited the widespread use of unemployment insurance as a temporary, COVID-related paid vacation program.

The state and country realized that protecting families and life should not result in a loss of income, and now is the time to learn the lessons from the pandemic, she said.

“Regardless of whether a person is facing COVID or cancer, a global health crisis or an individual health crisis, no one should be forced to choose between their job and family,” said McBride, D-Wilmington North. “Nobody should be forced to choose between their paycheck and health.”

Senator Sarah McBride, D-Wilmington North

It’s a personal issue for McBride, who experienced the benefits of paid vacation caring for her late husband Andrew after he was diagnosed with cancer.

Politics allowed her to look after him for the last few weeks of his life and to marry him just days before he died, she said.

She considers herself fortunate compared to families in Delaware who have struggled to make ends meet in the face of a serious illness or child birth, she said.

“The status quo is not only unsustainable, it’s cruel,” said McBride. “And we can change it.”

McBride had several months to gain support for this long-awaited bill from other legislators in the General Assembly, in which the Democrats have a three-fifths majority in each chamber. The bill requires three-fifths of support in both chambers because it creates a state fund through a wage contribution.

The bill is already supported by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, and Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, two of the senior members of the Statehouse Process.

However, the bill is backed by Governor John Carney, who would have to sign it in order for it to become law. And it’s unclear whether it would support the current version.

“The governor understands the value of paid vacation for workers and their families,” Carney spokesman Jonathan Starkey said in a statement Wednesday. “Expanding the program – and extending it to the private sector – is more complex. To get it right, it will require discussions with businesses large and small as necessary to pay for the new benefit.”

In 2018, Carney signed a bill to give full-time workers and their co-parents 12 weeks of paid family vacation if they have a newborn or adopt a child under 6. According to Carney’s office, more than 1,100 workers have made use of this policy.

Some powerful members of the business community, including the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, are also hesitant.

“The issue that Senator Sarah McBride took up is very complicated and becomes exponentially more difficult when smaller companies are involved in the discussion,” State Chamber President Michael Quaranta said in a statement. “Many of these companies don’t have full-time, dedicated human resources managers or benefits experts.”

Quaranta added that the board’s position could “move forward” as companies learn more about how the policy would affect them.

Legislative Hall in Dover

The federal law on family and sick leave, passed by Congress in 1993, allows some workers to have 12 weeks of vacation if they are required to take time off for medical or family reasons.

During this time, however, they are not guaranteed payment and, according to a press release on the bill, nearly 60% of Delaware workers do not have access to leave under the law.

The lack of paid vacation has affected Delaware residents like Ernesta Coursey. When she found out she was pregnant with her first son at age 18, Coursey had to figure out how to make ends meet. The small business hairdresser worked until the day she went to work and asked her boss to save her tips for her so that she could save exactly six weeks of unpaid vacation.

“The difficulty of not having paid vacation as a new parent was immense,” Coursey said during the briefing on Wednesday. “There was no room to breathe, and I was worried and concerned about how I was going to pay my bills and put food on the table.”

She pointed out that when she was 18, she had planned financially how to survive these six weeks.

“Can we imagine those 18-year-olds who have no such prospect of thinking?” Said Coursey.

The rule would follow Connecticut, Colorado, California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, and DC

Proponents of the bill argue that states with paid vacation programs are seeing higher work ethic and productivity, lower cost of sales, and greater security for workers. It would also allow small businesses to offer paid vacation when they couldn’t otherwise afford it.

The legislature’s deadline for passing bills this year is June 30th.

After that, they will take a six-month hiatus and will return in 2022.

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Sarah Gamard reports on government and politics for Delaware Online / The News Journal. Reach them at (302) 324-2281 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.

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