Burlington Free Press, Opinion: Vermont needs family leave insurance

As a family educator and lifelong advocate, I have long been concerned about the challenges faced by Vermonters who don’t have access to paid family and medical leave.

While may employees nationally and in Vermont are eligible for unpaid family leave through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or the Vermont Parental and Family Leave Act (PFLA) leave remains inaccessible for those who cannot afford to take time off unpaid.

I have known far too many new mothers who find themselves unable to take time off after the birth of their babies to experience the bonding that is essential to positive early attachment and socio-emotional development, let alone begin the process of post-partum physical healing. Invariably, these mothers are returning to jobs in the service industry where they are required to stand for long periods of time and are challenged to find adequate break time to rest, let alone pump breast milk for their newborns.

These circumstances begin a cycle in which many mothers are forced to abandon their intentions to provide breast milk to their babies, the form of nutrition best able to support infant growth and known to increase immunity from illness. Children who are denied this tailor-made nutrition are then more susceptible to illness, and have parents who are (again) unable to take time off to care for them. We then see the unnecessary spread of infections that run through early care and education environments, and into our workplaces through parents who are themselves forced to go to work sick. Without job-protected, paid time off, parents face an impossible choice between their families’ health and their income.

Currently, Vermont has been considering implementing a statewide family and medical leave insurance program that would allow Vermonters to have access to paid, job-protected leave for to take time to bond with or care for a newborn, recover from a serious long-term illness or injury, or care for a family member with a serious long-term illness or injury.

Creating a statewide insurance program not only would provide relief to families, but to employers who would no longer have to make the choice about whether or not to provide maternity, paternity, or disability leave to their employees. Programs such as this help boost our economy by attracting more young talented people to the state and encouraging young families to stay in Vermont, which ultimately helps attract new businesses here and helps our current small business community thrive.

Samantha Stevens lives in Winooski.

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