The Hippo


Apr 18, 2019








Family leave
A bill would create a statewide leave insurance program

By Ryan Lessard

 The House is currently taking up a bill that would create a 12-week family medical leave insurance program funded by 0.5 percent of weekly wages from those who opt into the program. Those who participate will be able to take the time off for childbirth or serious medical conditions.

House Bill 628 is a business-friendly bill compared to what some other states have done, according to the bill’s prime sponsor, State Rep. Mary Gile, a Democrat, of Concord. As written, the bill would create a program aligned with the existing unemployment insurance program and administered by New Hampshire Employment Security.
“What we attempted to do was not emburden employers with something new and different, but rather to have them work within the systems that already exist,” she said.
Other states require full participation or require employers to pay 50 percent of the funds. In New Hampshire, employers will only be required to give employees the option and employees can choose to opt in or out. If they opt out, they must submit an affidavit to their employer, which helps small businesses rest easy against the risk of lawsuits. 
For employers, the added paperwork should be minimal.
“Really, it would just amount to another column on the paper that they would have to submit in order to list the numbers of people who are contributing to the family and medical leave insurance,” Gile said.
The fund relies on a certain level of buy-in from employees across the state who will contribute to the common fund. Gile said the state would need around 60 to 70 percent of the workforce to opt in. Otherwise, the rate of 0.5 percent per week would need to increase.
“If you had a company of 50 and only one person opts in, you would hope that another company with 200 employees, they all opted in. It’s going into a pool, but only that one person who is part of it would be eligible for the insurance,” Gile said.
Small business owner and Republican state rep Keith Murphy of Bedford is against the bill. He is not optimistic about the fund raising enough money and predicts the need for a bailout in five years. He said the wage garnishment amounts to a small income tax, which is difficult to opt out of (it requires a notarized form) and adds a regulatory burden on businesses, and the bill doesn’t account for folks who earn most of their income in tips.
“This is a well-intended but poorly conceived bill,” Murphy said.
The bill has been in the works for years. In 2010 lawmakers voted to retain a similar bill and convened a study commission. Ultimately, it recommended an actuarial study, which took about six years to complete. New Hampshire Employment Security got the funding for the study and commissioned the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH to conduct it.
The researchers found that 82 percent of Granite Staters support a state-administered medical family leave program. Studies from other states with existing programs, nationwide surveys and awareness outreach efforts by organizations like the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy show support has expanded among men, women, Republicans and Democrats. Gile said a study in California found the program resulted in a 14-percent increase in the labor force participation rate, and 87 percent of employers surveyed said the program resulted in no added cost to the company. Nine percent of employers reported cost savings. In a national survey, support among small business owners has grown from 45 percent in 2013 to 70 percent in 2017. The vast majority of businesses in New Hampshire are small businesses.
Gile said the program would help the state’s workforce shortage; studies have shown similar programs in other states contributing to higher employee retention and morale. 

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