MONTPELIER — The governor announced Tuesday that the state has hired The Hartford to set up a new Vermont Family and Medical Leave Insurance Plan, which is being pitched as a voluntary paid family and medical leave program to be fully implemented by 2025.
The plan, which is similar to the Twin State Voluntary Leave Plan that the state proposed in 2019 along with the State of New Hampshire,
Beginning July 23 of 2023, VT-FMLI will cover 60 percent of an employee’s income for up to six weeks, pending that there’s a qualifying event.
According to a press release from the governor’s office, qualifying events include the following:
Qualified events include:
- The birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
- An employee’s adoption of a child or foster care placement, and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
- Caring for the employee’s spouse, child, stepchild, foster child, ward who lives with the employee, parent or parent of the employee’s spouse who has a serious health condition;
- A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of their job; or
- Any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, child, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty,” or to care for a covered service-member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service-member’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (i.e. “military caregiver leave”).
Gov. Phil Scott called the program a “win-win” because it has support which will come from the state employees, who will be automatically enrolled, but won’t require buy-in from other Vermonters who don’t want the insurance.
“I have long supported paid family and medical leave, provided it is voluntary and affordable,” Scott said. “By enrolling State employees to create a pool, and opening it up to all employers and individuals, I believe we can accomplish our shared goal of providing the peace of mind of paid family and medical leave more efficiently, affordably and quickly than imposing another mandatory broad-based tax on already over-burdened workers.”
The state employee workforce will start receiving coverage in July 2023. Then, beginning in 2024, private and other non-public employees will have a variety of plans from The Hartford that they can choose from. Self-employed individuals also will be able to purchase plans.
The program will cost approximately $2 million annually, which amounts to about $4.50 per week for those using the program.
“As a leading provider of employee benefits and leave management, we understand the value of paid leave to employees in Vermont and have decades of experience offering employers effective paid leave programs,” said Jonathan Bennett, head of Group Benefits at The Hartford. “The Hartford has the expertise, technology, and skilled staff to provide a seamless customer experience and make Vermont’s innovative program a success,” he said.
Opposition from top Democrats
Just hours after the governor’s announcement, Vermont House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, expressed doubts about the paid-leave program.
“I look forward to reviewing the details of the governor’s program, but at first glance, it does not meet the needs of Vermonters in this moment,” she said in a statement.
“The legislature will continue to prioritize access to these critical needs this coming session. We will review reports that outline a path forward in January and take testimony from all interested parties to ensure we hear from all voices on the best way to make these policies a reality and lead the way in supporting working families,” she said.
She suggested that the governor will listen to proposals for a larger program.
“I was happy to hear that the governor is open to discussion on a universal, more inclusive program and I look forward to working with the governor and his team this coming session,” she wrote.
During the question and answer portion of his press conference Tuesday, Scott reviewed some of the challenges the state needs to consider before committing to a more cost-intensive mandatory program.
“We are challenged by inflation, individually, collectively, every sector,” he said. “But also it’s really about the workforce. We need to bring more people into this state and I think this is part of the answer.”