Now in control of the House, Minnesota Democrats have made paid family and medical leave one of its top priorities in the 2019 session, and Northfield's District 20B Rep. Todd Lippert is in the thick of it.
The rookie representative, a pastor at Northfield First United Church of Christ, co-authored a bill, along with several other DFL lawmakers in the House, to start a state-run social insurance program funded by a .31 percent payroll tax on both employers and employees. A pool of funds would be developed from the payments to cover the cost for Minnesota workers to take up to 12 weeks of partial wage replacement for medical leave and an additional 12 weeks to care for a newborn or family member.
"This is a conversation that has come up with local business owners, and it did come up during the campaign trail. There is still a lot of conversation to be had, though," Lippert said. "Not everyone is aware that this can be done in an inexpensive way with a statewide pool. This is a social insurance program model, so everyone pays a little bit and everyone benefits."
Advocates suggest that just 13 percent of Minnesota workers currently have paid family and medical leave through their employers
Lippert noted that for a median small business and employee in Minnesota, the proposed social insurance pool would amount to about $2 per week, or a bit over $100 per year. According to advocates, the proposed social system tips the scales into a more equitable position for small businesses.
"Smaller employers have a greater challenge providing resources and income to workers when they need leave. There are specific challenges those employers face. It’s a critical part of designing a program that works for rural communities," said Debra Fitzpatrick, who authored a University of Minnesota report, released Monday, which suggested an increased need for paid leave with rising demand in childcare and aging care.
Advocates say the social insurance pool would split the bill fairly between employers and employees all across the state, making it affordable for all, and allowing small businesses to provide paid leave the same way larger employers can.
Opponents of the proposed policy, including many Republicans in the Legislature, take issues with the numbers.
Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President for Advocacy, told the Star Tribune the group is “deeply concerned” about several key elements in the bill, including added bureaucracy and costs. “We feel very strongly that employers know best how to offer benefits for employees," she said.
Creating a system in Minnesota would also require state spending up front. Previous versions of the legislation required tens of millions of dollars over the first three years. A number of other states, including California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, have enacted similar programs. Supporters said success in other places proves the concept.
According to Lippert, there is a care crisis across the state and especially in rural Minnesota. He told the story of a couple in his congregation that could've utilized paid leave.
"He had recently retired and she was still working out of need. But then he was diagnosed with early onset dementia. He needed care throughout the day, but she needed to work. She was organizing friends and neighbors to care for him. She was on edge until she could find a memory care bed. Having 12 weeks of leave would’ve been incredibly helpful, but because that wasn’t available, it was just a horrific time for this couple," Lippert said.
The proposed House bill will get its first hearing in front of the Labor Committee, which Lippert serves on, Wednesday. It will then likely move to the Finance Committee before reaching the House floor. A similar bill is expected to move through the Senate; that one faces a Republican majority that may have different ideas of how to move forward.
Lippert sees the care crisis as reaching far beyond just one type of care. While childcare or senior care are at the forefront of many minds, he noted there are increasing issues with mental health in greater Minnesota, too. With long-term care needs expected to double in the next 20 years, Lippert sees paid leave as a must.
"It’s going to get even more intense going forward," he said. "I see paid family leave as a foundational policy that touches all of the things that I mentioned. We need some policies that can help families right now."