AUGUSTA — We all experience life events that make it necessary for us to take time away from work.

Perhaps you or a loved one are one of the 8,600 new cases of cancer in Maine annually; or your loved one is one of the 27,000 Mainers age 65 and older currently living with Alzheimer’s disease; or you’re one of the parents in the more than 12,500 births we’ll have this year; or you need hip or knee replacement surgery (more than 500 are performed annually at Eastern Maine Medical Center alone); or you or a loved one are a victim of a stroke – which occurs every 40 seconds in the U.S. and is one of the leading causes of serious long-term disability.

At some point we each need time to recover, get treatment or help a family member heal. For too many families, missing work during these times leads to a financial crisis, but it doesn’t have to be this way. That’s why the Maine Women’s Lobby supports L.D. 1587, An Act to Provide Economic Security to Maine Families Through the Creation of a Paid Family Medical Leave System, which enjoys bipartisan support.

Paid family and medical leave, already adopted by five other states and Washington, D.C., is a social insurance program, like Social Security or unemployment, that allows workers to continue to receive at least partial pay when they need to take an extended period of time off from work. The bill would create a state insurance system through small employee contributions (up to 0.5 percent of wages). Qualified employees could take up to eight weeks off and draw up to 66 percent of their wages from this insurance pool when facing a major life event.

Paid leave could provide a key component of caring for Maine’s aging population. By 2030, 28 percent of our population is expected be 65 or older, and almost two-thirds of those are expected to need long-term services and supports. Maine’s State Plan on Aging found that as our baby boomers age, there will be an even greater demand for family. Allowing seniors to age at home with the help of family caregivers instead of in facilities could produce better health outcomes and save the state money, but the typical family caregiver is a middle-aged, employed woman balancing multiple responsibilities. Access to paid leave could reduce her emotional and financial burden, keeping her in the workforce and making her more financially secure in the long term.

Today, one in four new mothers returns to work within two weeks of giving birth, usually because she cannot afford to go without pay. That’s just wrong. Paid leave would allow women to heal from childbirth, allow fathers to share in caring for their families and delay the need for expensive and hard-to-find infant care, all while getting children off to a healthy start in life. Improved health outcomes include greater rates of breastfeeding, checkups and vaccinations. Further, women who use paid leave after childbirth are more likely to remain employed the following year, and parents who have used it report lower levels of public assistance and bankruptcies following the birth of a child.

A system of paid family and medical leave could assist businesses, especially those small employers who would like to be able to retain good employees but cannot afford to continue paying them while they are out. Experience in states that have a paid leave insurance program demonstrate that access to paid leave increases employee morale and retention, reduces turnover and increases productivity.

Currently our state faces a workforce shortage. A paid family and medical leave system would address that by making Maine a more family-friendly state where young families want to live, keeping our young people here and attracting more, and by allowing caregivers to stay in the workforce longer, especially during key earning years.

Creating a paid family and medical leave system will keep businesses more competitive, strengthen families and improve the health of Mainers. It’s a common-sense solution whose time has come.

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