“Supporting Family Values Means Supporting Paid Family Leave”
–Michelle Noehren, Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW)
On Tuesday June 10, a group of passionate community members gathered to discuss the possibility of paid family leave in Connecticut at the first “Let’s Talk About It” event in a series of community conversations about current issues impacting women. The first topic was family and medical leave insurance (FMLI) also referred to as paid family leave (PFL). The conversation was led by the Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave co-chairs Catherine Bailey of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) and Michelle Noehren of PCSW. CWEALF and the Campaign co-hosted this event in Hartford as a way to hear the perspectives and personal narratives of workers and family members.
Participants ranged from lawyers and policy advocates to curious family members struck by the imbalance of safety net policies for employees. Participants shared their experiences about how family leave policies—paid or unpaid—assisted them when they needed time or when it was detrimental to not have such as policy in place.
One motif to cut across all stories was the notion of unpredictability and how that affects work and home life. A participant shared that her best friend, a 25 year old woman, developed cancer and had to leave work to go through treatment. Her parents needed to stop working to provide their daughter care for several months. That family is still dealing with the repercussions of a lack of pay compounded with medical bills and ultimately the loss of their daughter.
Another challenge emphasized was how workplaces can vary greatly with what they provide to their employees. Some people shared organizations in the community who excel with family friendly policies. But, many pointed out that these policies may not become apparent until you need them. Several women mentioned that they did not know the state or federal policies regarding the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) until they became pregnant or until they or a loved one became ill. Participants shared a lack of awareness of the policies and disbelief that there is no statewide or national policy to provide compensation for needed leave.
During an emotive stretch of a person’s life it becomes even more grueling to require a leave of absence from employment without pay or being unable to take an unpaid leave. While this type of legislation has many moving pieces, several states have already successfully implemented PFL. Several research studies have shown positive effects in the workplace and in family life after passing such policies. Longer term economic gains including lower likelihood of needing public assistance and higher wages among new mothers entering the workforce after leave should be seen as important gains for Connecticut (http://paidfamilyleavect.org/why/).
Lindsay Farrell, Executive Director of Connecticut Working Families, noted that the economy was not what it used to be; in two-parent household most families need two incomes. Lucy Brakoniecki, Research and Evaluation Director at CWEALF, commented that even more individuals are “sandwiched” in between providing unpaid care to elderly parents and dependent children or grandchildren while balancing a career. To encompass these cultural and economic changes, policies need to adapt to the changes of the market to reflect this reality and the unpredictability of life.
For more information, visit the Campaign for Paid Family Leave. http://paidfamilyleavect.org/
Written by Nikki Seymour. Nikki is a second year Master’s in Social Work (policy concentration) student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and a Research & Evaluation intern at CWEALF continuing as summer staff for the Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention faith study.
 FMLI or PFL would create an insurance system in which employees could receive temporary wage replacement in the event of a serious illness (personal or to care for a family member), having a child, arrival of an adopted child, or to care for an injured service member. Logistical considerations such as duration of leave, those eligible, and amount of wage replacement, are all factors involved in the policy planning process.