Our view: Picking up the tab for family leave

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Good morning,

Businesses and fiscal watchdogs are monitoring a state employee family leave bill destined to be signed by the governor.

The legislation passed the General Assembly by a wide margin, with even a few of the state’s more conservative legislators voting yes.

The bill’s goals are laudable since it grants up to 12 weeks of paid leave for parents. Delaware is destined to become one of a half a dozen states to offer the benefit.

The U.S. remains one of only a few nations that does not require at a minimum, paid maternity leave.

The state leave provision will help retain and attract teachers and other key workers that are in increasingly short supply in a low-unemployment economy.

Other states and municipalities, including neighboring New Jersey, have gone further by mandating paid family leave for all workers for periods of less than 12 weeks.

It comes amid evidence that the current laws that protect employees when taking unpaid leave are useless for many workers who face financial pressures if they stay home.

Even the Trump Administration put family leave into one budget earlier this year, with the provision that states would operate their own programs.

Paying for family leave can be done through a payroll deduction similar to unemployment or Social Security with both the employee and employer picking up the tab.

One problem under Delaware’s plan for state employees is that the more than $1 million in annual costs are built into benefit packages that are already generous by private sector standards. School districts will see about half of the costs borne by property taxpayers.

Pay for government workers is not always competitive and this measure will further limit the ability to grant raises.

Meanwhile, for many in Delaware, the safety net of unemployment benefits that are rarely used by heavily protected government workers and legislators rank among the lowest in the nation.

Granted, Delaware is in an up period in the budget cycle, but the added costs could prove to be a burden down the road.

It would have been better to have seen the state take the lead in family leave through cost sharing via payroll deduction, with perhaps one-time contributions to get the program off the ground.

Otherwise, another fixed cost has been built into an unsustainable state budget. Can you imagine the headlines and outrage if this mandate is ever touched?

Agree or disagree? Let me know – Doug Rainey, publisher.

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