The Potluck

DFL launches effort for Minnesota paid family leave program

By: - January 6, 2023 7:45 am

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, left, and Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, at a Capitol press conference on Thursday, Jan. 6. Photo by Michelle Griffith / Minnesota Reformer.

Democratic legislators are optimistic they will pass paid family leave after years of advocacy and vetting — and opposition from Republicans and their business allies.

The program unveiled at a news conference Thursday would allow workers to take paid leave for up to 12 weeks of medical leave and up to 12 weeks for family leave, after workers and employers pay a tax into a fund. The bill’s authors and advocates say the program would especially benefit low-income Minnesotans and people of color, who are less likely to have paid leave through their jobs.

“No one should have to choose between caring for themselves, their loved ones or a paycheck,” said Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, during a Capitol press conference. “What we have the opportunity to do right now with the trifecta is to ensure that the safety nets that we have in the state of Minnesota — that they are equitably covering our state.”

Workers would be able to take paid leave for reasons like having a child, caring for a loved one or recovering from an illness, among other reasons. The pay partially reimburses lost salary up to 90% depending on the person’s income.

The program would operate like unemployment insurance, with both the employee and employer contributing money into a state pool.

Lawmakers said they plan to ask for a portion of the projected $17.6 billion budget surplus to jump-start the program. The lawmakers didn’t have a fresh cost estimate, but last year’s paid family leave bill appropriated $1.7 billion from the state’s general fund to pay for the program’s first two years.

Richardson has sponsored the legislation for years, but the Republican-controlled Senate last year never gave the bill a hearing.

Republicans and their business allies say the program is another burdensome mandate that will make it harder to do business here and cost good jobs.

According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. is far behind when it comes to paid family leave, citing data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: “The U.S. is the only country among 41 nations that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents.”

Passing paid family leave this year is one of the DFL’s top priorities.

“It will positively impact the health of our children, the health of our families and the economic stability of our families,” said Sen. Alice Mann, chief author of the Senate paid leave bill.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman on Thursday said paid family leave will pass this year, adding that Gov. Tim Walz will include the program in his budget proposal to be released later this month. Hortman said Walz is also looking to use some of the surplus to ease the startup costs of the program.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.