Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan looks on as Gov. Tim Walz advocates for paid family and medical leave at St. Paul’s Unity Café. Photo by Grace Deng/Minnesota Reformer.
Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday advocated for paid family and medical leave ahead of a Senate hearing Wednesday. The bill (SF2) would tax employees and employers like unemployment insurance and then allow up to 12 weeks for medical leave and up to 12 weeks for family leave.
“Eight days ago in our inaugural address, we made it very clear that the wellbeing of children and families is going to be the center of what we do,” Walz said while standing in the cramped baby blue basement of St. Paul’s Unity Café.
Walz said the bill would help people like the café’s owner, Cherno “CJ” Jome, who works two jobs aside from the café and suffers from a pinched nerve but can’t afford time off to heal.
Paid family leave has passed the Minnesota House before, but stalled in the formerly GOP-controlled Senate. The DFL trifecta has given the bill’s backers new hope — or in Walz’s words: “I’m very excited. We’re actually going to have hearings in the Minnesota Senate about this issue!”
The bill would levy a tax on businesses to pay for the program, but Walz said the benefits far outweigh the costs. The budget surplus may also be used to jump-start the program, potentially making paid family leave available to workers as soon as fiscal year 2025, said Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove.
“The first thousand days of a child’s life are the important thousand days for brain development. They are with their parents, getting that bonding time. This is our workforce in 18 years,” Grove said.
Three out of four Minnesotans have no access to paid family and medical leave. People of color and Minnesotans outside of the Twin Cities are also disproportionately affected, as they’re less likely to have paid leave through their jobs.
Walz said it was “quite honestly somewhat embarrassing” that paid family and medical leave isn’t already a mandatory practice in Minnesota, as 11 states have passed it and the United States is one of only a few developed countries that does not offer some form of the policy.
The bill under consideration would not offer full wages under paid leave, but it would reimburse up to 90% of lost salary depending on the person’s income. The policy also takes an expansive approach to defining family: Anyone who has the “equivalent of a family relationship” with a worker is covered under the bill, including long-term roommates and significant others.
DFL leaders are confident the bill will pass this year.
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