Although the majority of Americans support paid family leave, only 12 percent of North Carolina workers benefit from it. Employees are able to take unpaid family leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, but many workers simply cannot afford to go without pay while they take care of a new baby or sick relative.
A statewide insurance program could provide another option. For a small premium paid by all workers, it would offer paid leave for a range of reasons including having or adopting a child or helping an injured or sick family member.
Anna Gassman-Pines, WLF Bass Connections Associate Professor of Public Policy & Psychology and Neuroscience at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, researched the effects such a program would have. She projected that each year it would prevent 26 infant deaths and save around $17 million in nursing home care costs.
Host Frank Stasio talks with Gassman-Pines about how a paid family leave insurance program could save lives and money and who would need to get on board to make it a reality.
Why the Family and Medical Leave Act leaves out many employees:
For workers who have worked for a significant amount of time for a particular employer,they know that they can have that job back when they come back from leave, and that's a really important protection for a lot of workers. Unfortunately, that doesn't cover most North Carolinian workers for a couple reasons. One being that small businesses are exempt, which is really important for small businesses, because often holding a spot open while someone's on leave creates a real burden. But the second is that you have to have been working for at least a year for that particular employer. And then finally, some people can't afford to take an unpaid leave.
How a family leave insurance program could save money:
There are several kinds of cost savings that a paid family leave insurance program would generate. First of all, there's good evidence that when there's paid family medical leave insurance available, it reduces people's reliance on other kinds of government assistance. In particular, the program that we used to call food stamps and the Cash Assistance Program (TANF) … The other is that there's also good evidence that paid family and medical leave reduces nursing home usage … One thing that tends to happen is, as people stay in nursing homes, they spend down their own savings. And ultimately, the cost of that nursing home care is covered by the state by Medicaid … So again, if we can reduce nursing home usage, that will certainly save the money, and much of that might be saved by the state itself.
Why paid leave is so important:
The cost to families is quite high when people don't have access to paid leave … It's very, very stressful, especially for new parents. So for parents who are getting ready to welcome a child to be worrying about: How much time are they going to be able to take? Are they going to be able to afford to pay their bills while they're taking time off from work both for mom to recover and for the parents to bond with that new child? And so there are real costs to maternal health of not having access to paid leave. That's both physical and mental health. And in particular, when women don't have access to paid leave, they tend to go back to work much more quickly, often even before they're fully physically healed, and that has real costs for women's physical health.