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New Mexico Considers Paid Family Leave Policy

Aug 29, 2016

Credit aecf.org

What does the U.S. have in common with Swaziland, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea? The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that these are the only countries in the world that don’t have paid family or maternity leave. But there is a push to expand access to paid family leave time in New Mexico.

Daubney Harper Boland is a new Mom, she gave birth to her daughter three months ago and took off work to bond and care with her newborn.

“I had no idea I would just love it. It is so precious.” she said  “You really don’t want to lose that very special time and I didn’t want to be worrying about work or worrying about finances. I find it to be very important.”

A 2016 McGill University and UCLA study shows that for every additional month of paid maternity leave in low and middle-income countries, infant mortality rates drop by 13 percent. Research showed similar correlations in high income countries. 

New parents in the U.S. are guaranteed job secured leave for 12 weeks after the arrival of a new baby through the Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA. But because it is unpaid Harper Boland said she couldn’t afford to take as much as she needed. Her husband wasn’t eligible for FMLA at all, so he couldn’t get any time off to bond their daughter.

“I am missing so much of her development and the fact that my husband couldn’t be there for most of it is really, really sad” Harper Boland said.

Many workers aren’t eligible for FMLA, many more can’t afford to take it and sometimes even skip out on treatment. As a licensed psychologist Harper Boland said she sees it all the time.

“I would say that those hard ships are even doubled or even tripled having to take care of your parents or long term health or illness. That is an ongoing concern or a single mom not being able to afford to take leave. I can't imagine returning to work three or six weeks after she was born. But some people have to do that out of necessity.” Harper Boland said.  

There is a push for to change New Mexico law that would require paid paternity and paid family leave. Southwest Women's Law Center overseeing the effort. Representatives are touring all over the state to get public input. Sarah Coffee is the centers Staff Attorney.

“We want feedback from all different communities and we want to make sure that it works best for New Mexicans.” Coffee said. 

The key questions are: How much leave would employees be able to take? And what circumstances should they be able to take it in?

In New Jersey, Rhode Island and California paid family leave allows for between 4 to 12 weeks for the birth of a child or care for a family member with a serious illness. And 26 to 52 weeks to care for one’s own disability or health issue.  New York has also passed paid family leave that will take effect in 2018.

But Southwest Women's Law Center director Pamelya Herndon said the most contentious question is who will foot the bill?  The state, the employer or the employee or some combination?

Many business groups have expressed concern about the burden of paying for leave. But Herndon points to a survey of Rhode Island business owners who were apprehensive about paid leave time but were satisfied with the program after it went into effect.

“One misconception is that a business is going to fail if you allow your employee to be out on paid leave” Herndon said “The obstacles and belief that a business would fail is one myth that we need to get rid of.”

A survey of California employers went even further, reporting that the paid leave program reduced employee turnover and had little impact on companies’ productivity and profitability.

But that may not be so central to implementation in New Mexico. Herdon says a program funded solely by employee might be more popular and palatable model.

“Will it just be employees who will just be putting money into the fund? Are we more likely to have just employees that are the ones putting money into the fund. Then it could follow the employee, no matter where they are working so they don’t have to be tied to any one employer. That the fund will follow them throughout their entire lives.” Herndon said

According to the Department of Labor Only 12 percent of U.S. private sector workers have access to paid family, through their employer. That includes many New Mexicans working for employers like TIAA insurance and Verizon. And of course citizens of every other developed countries like the UK, Germany and South Korea all allow paid leave of 90 days or more. Daubney Harper Boland says when it comes to work and family balance the U.S. has its priorities out of order.   

"The culture of the United States is work so that you can afford things and then you work so you can have more things. But it is a bit of a rat race and we get away from the things that are most important and so having paid family leave would allow us to get back to those things, like family and life meaning.” Harper-Boland said.

The Southwest Women's Law Center public input will guide the drafting of a paid leave bill, to be introduced in the 2017 New Mexico legislative session.