Press-Republican

February 19, 2014

Gillibrand touts paid Family Medical Leave Act

DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — A local woman’s story was used Tuesday morning to illustrate the need for paid medical leave insurance.

Kristin DeVoe of Plattsburgh, the mother of three young children, told her story at a news conference about the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, held at the OneWorkSource building in Plattsburgh.

In December 2012, her daughter, Malyiah, then 3 years old, suffered burns over 30 percent of her body.

Malyiah spent five weeks in the hospital, first at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington and then at Shriner’s Hospital in Boston — with her mother by her side the entire time.

When Kristin returned to Plattsburgh, there was an eviction notice on her door.

After five months of 24-hour-a-day care for Malyiah and her other children, Kristin sought to return to her job, only to learn she had been replaced.

“I’m hoping that other people do not end up in this situation,” she said. 

On a brighter note, Kristin said Malyiah has made a full recovery and was at that moment playing in the Family Connections program offered by the Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country downstairs from the press conference.

PORTION OF WAGES

Cases such as Kristin’s are what has led U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to introduce the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act. It would provide 66 percent of a worker’s typical monthly wages for up to 12 weeks.

She said that, too often, people face a decision on whether it is more important to keep their job or care for a loved one.

“I feel that is a choice a family shouldn’t have to make,” Gillibrand said.

She said the act is also of importance to businesses, which can lose a valuable employee if someone has to leave under such circumstances.

UNPAID LEAVE NOW

Currently, Family and Medical Leave provisions allow unpaid job-protected leave.

And, Gillibrand said, only 12 percent of workers have access to paid family leave through their employers. And fewer than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave through employer-provided temporary disability insurance, she said.

“We are the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t have paid (medical) leave,” she said.

HOW TO PAY FOR IT

The act would create an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits.

It would be funded by employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each, which Gillibrand said equates to about the cost of one cup of coffee per week.

State Assemblywoman Addie Russell thanked Gillibrand for her attention to workforce issues such as this. She said the nation’s economic policies have failed to take into account the importance of women in the workforce and in the family.

“This is the type of issue our legislators in Washington should be focused on,” Russell said.

LEAGUE SUPPORT

League of Women Voters of the North Country President Sally Sears-Mack said the group advocates access to basic levels of care, including disease prevention, health promotion, education, access to all forms of health care and allowing consumers to purchase additional service or insurance coverage.

The new act, introduced by Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, meshes with the league’s position “like hand and glove,” Sears-Mack said.

HELP FOR FAMILIES

Child Care Coordinating Council Executive Director Jamie Basiliere said her agency’s mission is to support and strengthen families and child-care professionals.

“We are the one-stop shop for your young family’s needs,” she said.

Basiliere said the act would allow her 15 employees to better manage their jobs but also their caregiver duties at home. It would also benefit child-care professionals, she said.

“This will help families around the nation improve their lives,” she said.

The act requires approval by the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

Email Dan Heath: dheath@pressrepublican.com