Destie Hohman Sprague, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, speaks about paid family and medical leave at the Maine State House in Augusta on Tuesday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Lydia Jopp is taking three months of unpaid family leave to care for her 2-month-old son Robbie.

She’s lucky that she can afford the time off, she said, but many others who can’t afford it should be able to take paid time off so they can care for their families, too.

“It would give moms a little bit of dignity,” Jopp said. “Invest in us. This is an investment in the future of Maine. It seems like such a no-brainer.”

Jopp – with Robbie held close to her in an infant carrier – joined hundreds of advocates for a “Day of Action” at the Maine State House on Tuesday to lobby for paid family leave in Maine. A coalition of Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups descended on the capital to press for a new law that would establish a statewide paid family leave benefit. The benefit would typically be used for the birth of a child, to care for a sick or elderly relative, or when a worker falls ill and needs time to recover.

Destie Hohman Sprague, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, said many new mothers have to go back to work before they are ready.

“One-fourth of people go back to work within 10 days of giving birth,” Sprague said. “We know that’s not OK. We can do better.”


The federal government approved unpaid family leave 30 years ago, but national efforts for a paid benefit have so far failed. Meanwhile, 11 states and the District of Columbia have enacted paid family leave, and Maine is among a handful of states, including Michigan, New Mexico, Illinois and Minnesota, that could create paid family leave benefits this year.

Lydia Jopp and her son Robbie, 2 months, of Scarborough, poses for a portrait on Tuesday in the Welcome Center at the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Lawmakers have yet to present a bill with specific details about how Maine’s benefit would work, how much it would cost and who would pay for it. The Legislature’s Paid Family Leave Commission released a report Tuesday that does not make a specific recommendation, but instead lists a menu of options for lawmakers to consider when crafting a paid benefit.

Leaders of the business community and Republican lawmakers have mostly said they are reserving judgment on the proposal until they learn the details of how it would work. Some have said the proposal will need to be carefully crafted so that it doesn’t place too much of a tax burden on employers or worsen the shortage of workers.


Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, one of the co-chairs of the commission, said the goal for the report released Tuesday was to give lawmakers “guardrails” of what a substantive benefit would look like and how to pay for it. While the commission said it could be funded with a payroll tax of up to 1%, Daughtry said she expects the end result will be less than 1%.

If approved, the payroll tax would be paid for with a combination of employer and employee contributions. The commission suggested either a 50-50 split, a split with 75% paid for by the employee and 25% by the employer or somewhere in between. Small businesses with 15 or fewer employees would be exempt from paying the tax and participating, but could opt into the program. All workers, including the self-employed and people who work for exempt businesses, could claim a benefit.


The payout would be 12 weeks at 80% or 90% of weekly pay, up to 120% of the median wage. Initial estimates projected about 40,000 to 50,000 Mainers would take advantage of the paid leave benefit per year, according to an analysis by Milliman, a global consulting firm. About 12,000 babies are born in Maine annually.

Daughtry said the issue is personal to her. As a small-business owner of Moderation Brewing in Brunswick, she would opt into the program for her workers if one existed. She also wants to one day start a family.

During the “Day of Action,” activists held up signs saying “It’s Time for PFML” and “Maine Can’t Wait.” With Maine having Democratic control of the State House and Senate and the Blaine House, advocates believe they can get paid family leave across the finish line in 2023.

Gov. Janet Mills has yet to take a position on the issue, but directed $300,000 to the commission to pay for an in-depth analysis of proposals.

On Monday, Mills spokesman Ben Goodman said that the governor “understands the importance of paid family leave, and she believes that it is important that discussions before the Legislature take into consideration the landscape of Maine’s economy and the perspective of Maine employers, particularly small businesses.”

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce also has not taken a position since a bill has not yet been drafted, but has expressed concerns that it could exacerbate workforce shortages.



Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said on Tuesday that the Republican caucus has yet to take a position since the bill has not yet been released, but expressed skepticism about new taxes.

“Any institution of a new tax on them and their wages or on businesses in Maine is probably not going to be received well by Maine people,” Stewart said.

Rep. Joshua Morris, R-Turner, issued a statement on Monday that said “Maine’s small businesses and workers are already dealing with high inflation, labor, energy, food and healthcare costs. The Legislature should not add to their pain by passing a sweeping new tax that will make life more expensive for nearly every person in Maine.”

But paid family leave advocates noted that supporting employees with paid time off can help attract and retain workers.

Sessa Salas, owner of PeoplePlace Cooperative Preschool in Camden, said employees who feel valued and supported are more likely to stay at a workplace.

Amina Hassan, executive director of Her Safety Net in Lewiston, which helps women who are experiencing domestic violence, said paid family leave can help women who feel trapped in domestic violence with time off with pay so they can start building a new life before coming back to work.

“Sometimes we need time off so we can come back stronger,” Hassan said.

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