Paid family and medical leave is the subject of one of the many statewide ballot issues being put to Colorado voters this election season.
Proposition 118 would give Colorado workers 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a new child, recover from a personal illness or injury, care for a sick or injured family member, or address needs related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or a family member’s military deployment.
Around 80 percent of Colorado workers don’t currently have paid family or medical leave.
The state-run insurance program would be funded by small monthly premiums from employers and employees, with each paying 0.45 percent of the employees’ wage into the program. That amounts to $3.83 per week for the average worker.
Then, when Colorado workers have a qualifying life event, they can take paid time off without placing any financial burden on their employer.
Lower-wage workers would get up to 90 percent of their wages replaced, while those with higher incomes would get a smaller portion covered. The maximum weekly benefit is estimated to be $1,100.
Premium collection would begin in January of 2023, and workers would be able to apply for the benefit in January of the following year.
Supporters of the policy point to economic and health benefits for families and children, in particular.
According to a report from CNN on relevant studies, policies that guarantee paid leave for new parents led to better health outcomes for infants, who are more likely to get well-baby care visits and vaccinations, short and long-term maternal health benefits, and more involvement from fathers in a child’s upbringing, in addition to making families more financially secure.
Under Colorado’s proposed measure, four additional weeks of coverage could be granted to workers who experience certain complications with pregnancy or childbirth.
Supporters of the measure say it’s an increasingly urgent one given the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No employer wants to say, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. You have to quarantine right now, but you’re going to lose your wages,'” said Westminster Democratic state Sen. Faith Winter, one of the measure’s biggest supporters, in an interview with Colorado Public Radio.
Current federal law requires certain employers to give workers up to 12 weeks of medical leave, but doesn’t ensure those workers will be paid. In fact, the United States is one of the only industrialized nations without a paid family leave policy in place.
While Congress has been unable to address the issue of paid leave, some states have been implementing their own solutions. If the measure passes, Colorado would join eight other states that have implemented similar policies, including New Jersey, Washington, and California.
Critics of the measure claim it would be too costly for businesses and that the program could run out of money if too many workers qualify for the benefit. One report found that scenario to be unlikely.
States with similar programs have reported largely positive results for employers, like a decrease in employee turnover that can be costly for businesses, in addition to health, financial, and other benefits for workers and their families. In California, 91 percent of businesses reported no negative effects on profitability.
And, in an effort to shield small businesses, the Colorado measure exempts employers with fewer than 10 employees from paying into the program.
Some Colorado lawmakers have tried for years to enact paid family and medical leave, but efforts have been repeatedly stalled mostly due to disagreements about how to implement such a program.
In 2019, lawmakers established a task force to determine how best to offer paid family and medical leave in Colorado. The group, which included private employers, economists, worker organizations, and former government officials, found that a state-run insurance model for paid family and medical leave was a good policy for the state.