Relief for CT workers is finally here with paid family leave

At long last, Connecticut workers no longer must choose between buying groceries and caring for a loved one. Thanks to the advocacy of Gov. Lamont and a coalition of over 100 small businesses and 70 organizations, the legislature established the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority, or CTPL, to administer the state’s first paid leave program. Support was robust — 88 percent of Connecticut registered voters, including 78 percent of Republicans, welcomed the concept of paid leave.

One of seven states and the District of Columbia leading the way for workers and their families, Connecticut’s program is making the state a destination for workers. The need is immediately evident as more than 11,800 people have applied for the benefit. Of those, 5,700 of the applications were for people with individual health conditions; 4,600 people applied for pregnancy, childbirth and bonding leave; and 30 individuals applied for leave for adoption and foster care, or for family violence. Seven leaves were requested for organ donations, one for bone marrow donations and three for military leave. In only one year, Connecticut established and implemented one of the most robust paid leave programs in the country. That’s something to be celebrated.

As the CEO of The Women’s Business Development Council and the employer of 23 full-time employees, I am familiar with the needs of small businesses. I am very aware that there is a misconception among some members of the business community who believe the program is a burden on small businesses even though the data states otherwise, and the program is completely funded by workers. The program does create a new environment for small businesses and understanding how it works requires some knowledge of the program. That’s why the CT Paid Leave Authority prioritizes responsiveness to the small business community’s needs.

CT Paid Leave established a pilot program specifically for business organizations and their constituents throughout the state to help small businesses understand the state’s paid family and medical leave mandate and simplify its administrative impact. CTPL continues to work extensively with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Chambers of Commerce, BNI, the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), WBDC, and Service Core of Retired Executives (SCORE) to help educate their constituencies, and developed a webpage for small businesses where information can be found quickly and easily. CTPL has held 215 webinars, 16 specifically for the small business community scheduled over the next two months, created a toolkit in plain language to help them understand how it works, and has a team of four staff dedicated to answering questions and helping small businesses navigate the system. The CTPL is committed to make this transition as easy as possible for the state’s small businesses.

Claims have been made as to CTPL’s long-term viability being at risk, but the data and actuaries reflect a different picture. From the revenue side, CTPL anticipates receiving between $400 million and $425 million in contributions for the calendar year 2021 reporting period. The agency is on pace to achieve this number having received over $309 million to date, not including the fourth-quarter contributions for 2021. Current revenues are exceeding total spending and the projections show a stable, growing balance by the fifth year. Even under high utilization scenarios, the fund is solvent for at least the next five years.

Finally, Connecticut’s paid leave program has checks and balances to ensure that workers cannot abuse the system. CTPL’s claims partner AFLAC utilizes a combination of proprietary digital and identity verification antifraud tools and has a dedicated team of staff for fraud prevention. The AFLAC process also relies on required employer verification, which includes dates of leave, income during the leave duration and leave schedule as discussed with the employer. CTPL is working with multiple state agencies to conduct and expand its secondary verification to fight fraud.

The facts speak for themselves. Data from other states where paid leave exists have shown that morale is boosted, and workers do not overuse the benefits. In New Jersey, a study conducted three years after the implementation of paid leave found that businesses overall experienced no effects on profitability, performance or employee productivity, regardless of employer size. In a study of the New York program, it revealed that costs to businesses were minimal and in fact, they found it easier to manage employees’ longer absences.

Most importantly, these facts demonstrate the real need for paid leave benefits. In addition to my role as CEO and founder of the Women’s Business Development Council I also serve as vice chair of the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority’s board, so I know how important this benefit is to the new parent, the spouse of someone in active duty in the military or the child taking care of an ill parent. In a state where 40 percent of households can’t afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food, transportation or health care, Connecticut workers can now rest assured they can care for their loved ones without having to worry about making ends meet.

Fran Pastore is CEO and founder of the Women’s Business Development Council and board vice chair of the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority.

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