The revenue-neutral proposal is good for families and businesses
Pawtucket Rep. Elaine A. Coderre said “yes” last year to then Senator Rhoda E. Perry, when she sought a House sponsor of S 2734. Perry’s legislative proposal would have amended the state’s existing Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) program to include coverage for caregivers who care for loved ones during a health care emergency or to take time off to bond with a child.
Years earlier, Coderre found herself unexpectedly serving as the caregiver for her dying mother, even as she held a fulltime job and served in the General Assembly. With that experience, Coderre became the primary sponsor of H 7862, the companion bill to S 2734. To the disappointment of both women, their proposal was held for further study, effectively killing it.
With her elderly mother quickly losing her ability to live independently, with diagnoses of advanced Alzheimer’s disease and colon cancer, Coderre, then 50, became a stressed caregiver.
For more than 10 months, Coderre juggled two challenging jobs with family demands and caring for her mother. Looking back, Coderre considers herself fortunate because she had help from her immediate family and from a hired homemaker.
Becoming a caregiver to a frail family member pushed Coderre to again become the primary sponsor of House legislation to create a Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program (TCIP).
During the 2013 legislative session, Coderre joined Sen. Gayle Goldin, who represents part of Providence’s East Side, to reintroduce companion measures in the General Assembly (H 5889 and S 231) to create a TCIP. The legislative proposal, modified to address opponents’ concerns from the last session about the length of the benefit, would expand TDI to employees who must take time from work to care for a family member or bond with a new child.
If enacted, the proposal would allow employees to receive up to 8 weeks of replacement income while they care for a seriously ill family member or new child. The bill provides employees with job security by allowing them to return to work when their caregiver responsibilities end. The average weekly benefit for this proposal is $408 per employee.
Goldin, a freshman senator, has also had caregiving experience. “Paid family leave is a cost-effective way to give employees time to balance family and work responsibilities without jeopardizing their economic security,” said Goldin.
In the early 2000s, Goldin’s interest in research on TCIPs was piqued when the program was implemented in California. Last year, she brought her knowledge to the table when working with seven women to get the legislation introduced.
When Goldin took over Perry’s senate seat when Perry retired, she picked up the TDI cause.
On April 11, 11 groups came to the House Finance Committee to push for passage of H 5889.
Dr. Marcia Conè, CEO, of the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, told the committee that H 5889 offers what all employees need – time off to care of family business in a crisis.
Economic Progress Institute Executive Director Kate Brewster testified that the federal and state medical leave acts give employees, offering unpaid leave, protect employees’ jobs, but not their wages. Low-income Rhode Islanders cannot afford to take unpaid time off from work; they need their wages.
R. Kelly Sheridan, representing the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, submitted testimony warning that H 5889 “would make Rhode Island’s business climate an outlier compared to our neighboring states and would send the wrong message … regarding improving the business climate in our state.”
With the Rhode Island General Assembly gearing up to finish legislative business by mid-June, We Care for Rhode Island (WCRI), a grassroots coalition of 32 organizations, is pushing for passage of a Rhode Island TCIP.
Steve Gerencser of WCRI recently distributed literature to Hope Street merchants on the East Side of Providence. Passage of the legislation “can be a boon for businesses,” he said, noting that employee retention would improve and turnover would be reduced.
Goldin agrees with WCRI’s assessment that TCIP is a benefit to businesses. She claims there is really no impact on the state’s budget to start this new program. “It’s revenue-neutral and is solely funded by the employee; business owners do not contribute,” she has said.
With a negligible expense to implement and no cost to taxpayers or the business community, it’s penny wise and pound foolish for state lawmakers to not create the TCIP.
Sound public policy – like this legislative proposal – sends a clear message across the United States that the Ocean State is taking steps to become more family-friendly and competitively attract both small and large businesses into the state.
HERB WEISS (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. A longer version of this op-ed appeared in the May 17 issue of The Pawtucket Times, which granted approval to The Voice & Herald to publish this essay.