By Christian Wade | The Center Square
New Hampshire workers will be eligible for up to six weeks a year of paid leave under a new program approved as part of the state budget.
The new paid family and medical leave program, which was included in the two-year $13.5 billion spending plan signed by Gov. Chris Sununu on Friday, will allow workers whose businesses participate in the voluntary program to get paid at least 60% of their regular wages for up to six weeks if they take time off for personal health or family reasons.
There are several categories under which qualifying workers could take the time off, including the birth of a child or to care for a newborn, an adopted baby or child.
They could also get time off to care for a spouse, a child or parent who has a serious health condition.
The more than 10,000 members of the state workforce automatically qualifies for the benefits. They will serve as the risk pool for the program.
New Hampshire has wrangled over the creation of a paid leave program for several years, with partisan divisions over making the program mandatory for employers.
In 2019, Sununu vetoed a paid family leave bill approved by the then-Democratic controlled Legislature that would have required businesses to provide universal coverage.
He called the plan an “income tax” and vetoed a similar proposal offered by Democratic lawmakers last year.
At least eight states and the District of Columbia have passed paid family and medical leave programs, including California, which was the first to approve such a law in 2002, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Several states, including Massachusetts, have made participation in paid leave programs mandatory for many private employers and began withdrawing contributions from workers’ paychecks even before the laws went into effect.
Some of the laws provide leave for military caregivers and victims of domestic or sexual abuse, according to the conference.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year for an employee to recover from a health condition or care for a loved one. It covers workers at companies with 50 or more employees.
A new federal law passed last year in response to the pandemic allows workers to take up to two weeks of paid sick leave to care for themselves or others, but it expired earlier this year.
Congress is debating President Joe Biden’s proposed American Families Plan, which would provide low-income workers with 12 weeks of paid leave for 80% of their average wages.