COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Lawmakers at the Ohio Statehouse are considering a bill that would create a state-run paid family leave insurance program.
The program would grant up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to men and women who have a newborn, adopt a child, or in the case of serious health conditions find they must care for themselves or a loved one.
The amount of money you get paid would depend on how much money you make and is based on yearly earnings as a percentage of the statewide average weekly wage.
In other words, the more you make the less of a percentage of your normal pay you would get.
Those in the lowest-earning bracket would see 95% of their normal pay, while those in the highest-earning bracket would see 66% of their normal pay.
Finally, the bill protects the employees’ job while they are on leave so that they have something to come back to when it is over.
So, how is the State going to pay for this? That depends too.
The bill is set up so that employees would pay a premium, much like health insurance, that comes out of their wages.
However, the bill also allows for that premium to be paid by the employer, if they so desire, on behalf of the employee.
Another option the bill provides is for the employee to opt-out of the program, but that can only happen if the employer offers a better benefit for family and medical leave.
The money would go to the Department of Job and Family Services, where the program would be managed.
They will determine how much the premium will be in order to maintain solvency of the program and that amount may change from year to year.
Supporters of the bill include Heather Whaling, a mom herself and a small business owner in Columbus.
Whaling already provides her employees with paid family leave. Several of her employees have taken advantage of the benefit.
She thinks every Ohioan should have access to such a benefit.
“It will be life-changing for families in the state of Ohio and give them the financial security that they need and the job security that they need so in those first few weeks after they have a baby that they can take time to bond with the baby, that the mom can heal physically,” said Whaling.
Whaling says small businesses like hers are competing against corporations that are able to put forward compensation that includes benefit packages that include paid family leave.
According to Whaling, many small businesses can’t handle paying for that on their own and the paid family leave program would level the playing field and allow them to compete for talented professionals.
“I think it is an economic development issue,” said Whaling. “Whether we are talking about attracting businesses to Ohio, keeping top talent in the State of Ohio, and then making sure women especially are able to stay in the workforce after they have a child.”
While the concept is getting bipartisan support in some parts of the country, some Republicans here in Ohio are not thrilled with the proposed plan and describe the premium a tax.
“The bill in and of itself includes a provision that says that the way they’re gonna pay for this is an employer puts a tax on their employees to then pay for paid family leave which, you know, yes some employees will take advantage of but not for all,” said State Representative Niraj Antani (Miamisburg-R).
Antani says the bill shouldn’t force mandates on the private sector.
“While yes we want mothers to be at home with their babies, and fathers too. We simply can’t afford this program; and more so, we can’t afford to put it on the backs of small businesses,” said Antani. “I think that we can look at it for government, you know, we can sort of regulate government, now that is still taxpayer dollars.”
Ultimately, for Antani it is about the free market system. “If the market demands it, it will happen,” said Antani.
Whaling, in the meantime, frames this issue with a different perspective.
“Here in Ohio the Republican-controlled legislature has gone all-in on families and moms, and if we’re gonna go all-in on families it can’t just be about reproductive health,” said Whaling. “If we’re gonna go all-in on families that means then when that baby is born we need to make sure that mom and dad are able to stay home and take care of it.”