Pointing to its use to help Rhode Islanders weather the COVID-19 pandemic for the last year, Rhode Island State Senator Gayle Goldin and Representative Liana Cassar have introduced legislation to expand the state’s paid family leave program.
Their legislation would make Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) program a stronger support for those who need it, and open it up to the self-employed and those who work in the gig economy.
“When COVID arrived in Rhode Island last year, TCI claims skyrocketed by over 1000 percent between February and March,” said Senator Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence), who sponsored the bill that created the TCI program in 2013. “It was an absolutely critical tool for helping families keep their heads above water. Over 1,600 additional Rhode Islanders relied on the program in 2020 over 2019. TCI has proven, both during COVID and before it, to be a worthwhile, much-needed resource for sustaining Rhode Island families during the inevitable times when a family member needs care. It is time to build on that success and expand TCI to better meet the actual needs for which it is being used.”
- Increase the length of time workers could claim temporary caregivers leave from four weeks to 12 weeks;
- Increase the benefit amount to up to 90 percent of the worker’s wage;
- Provide the self-employed and gig workers to the option to join the program;
- Add grandchildren, siblings and other care recipients to those whose care could warrant a worker to use the program;
- Create a tax credit of $150 for low-wage users who pay into the TCI fund but do not use its benefits in a given tax year;
- Protect workers who take leave by instituting new fines and penalties for employers who try to deny them work after returning from leave; and
- Create a more equitable, progressive payment structure.
The bill is supported by RIght from the Start, a legislative and budget campaign to advance state policies for young children and their families in Rhode Island.The campaign held a virtual conference today in support of the bill, in which Senator Goldin and Representative Cassar discussed their legislation. Economic Progress Institute Senior Policy Analyst Rachel Flum and Latino Policy Institute Executive Director Marcela Betancur spoke about the need for the bill, as did Dr Pam High, a pediatrician; and Wilmaris Soto-Ramos, a parent.
Rhode Island was the third state in the nation to pass a paid family leave program when it enacted TCI in 2013. It provides up to four weeks of partial (about 60 percent) wage replacement for workers who need to take time from their jobs to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a newborn, adopted or foster child. The worker’s job and seniority are protected while the worker is on leave.
“TCI is, in many cases, the only option for paid leave when workers become parents, as well as being a source of income when people need to care for a sick family member,” said Representative Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence). “This program has been a lifeline for many families at critical points in their lives, but for most, it doesn’t actually make ends meet, or last nearly as long as the time people need to take out of work. It needs to pay a rate that is closer to what people earn, for more than just four weeks and be available to more people. TCI has been successful, and it would be more successful if it better matches the gap it’s meant to fill.”
The legislation aims to help, in particular, workers at the lower end of the wage spectrum. Currently, TCI pays workers about 60 percent of their average weekly salary – the lowest percentage of any state’s paid leave program. For low-wage workers, that 60 percent is not sufficient to cover basic expenses, and still leaves family leave out of reach. Raising the benefit rate to up to 90 percent, and providing low-wage workers with the $150 tax credit in years when they don’t need to make a claim, will make it a more affordable and accessible option for low-income workers, the sponsors said.
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Both sponsors said the expansion would be especially impactful for women, who still are more likely to leave work for family caregiving than men, and whose lifetime earnings are often negatively impacted as a result. The pandemic has resulted in many women leaving the workforce entirely as a result of schools going virtual for months and a lack of childcare. Women are also more likely to work in lower wage jobs with poorer benefits.
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