N.H., Vermont governors detail paid family leave proposal

  • Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, at left, and his New Hampshire counterpart Gov. Chris Sununu talk on Wednesday Jan. 16, 2019 in Littleton, N.H., about a proposal for a voluntary paid family leave program that would be available in both states. The proposal must be approved by the legislatures in both states. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring) Wilson Ring

Associated Press
Published: 1/16/2019 6:34:21 PM

New Hampshire and Vermont governors rolled out a plan Wednesday for a voluntary two-state paid family and medical leave program and allow private businesses and individuals to participate if they so choose.

The plan, which would be managed by a private insurer rather than state agencies, was announced at a joint meeting of the Republican governors at brewery in the border town of Littleton.

The key to the program is the combined buying power of the 18,500 public employees in the two states, the governors said.

“There is a border, there is a river that separates the two of us, but at the end of the day, we are all part of the same community,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said.

If passed by the legislatures in the two states, the program would provide 60 percent of a person’s wage for up to six weeks for a number of qualifying events, including the birth of a child or caring for a close relative who has a serious health condition.

The two governors said they were unaware of any efforts by states to work together to provide a social program to its citizens.

“And if we are successful in each of our state legislatures, we can establish a model and standard for the rest of the country that meets the calls for greater work-life balance,” Scott said.

But Democratic leaders in both states were not quick to embrace the concept.

“There’s no policy behind this, there’s no legislative planning behind this, there’s no actuarial studies, there’s no stakeholder support, and there has been no effort at bipartisanship,” New Hampshire Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes said.

Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, a Democrat and Progressive, declined comment.

The two states would cover the full cost of the program. Businesses with more than 20 employees and 100 percent employee participation would receive the state rate.

It is expected that smaller businesses with fewer than 20 employees would pay slightly higher rates. The costs for businesses that do not have 100 percent employee participation would pay premiums.

Individuals whose employer does not offer a paid family leave plan would have the option of purchasing coverage.

Sununu said that since private insurers would be used rather than state agencies, it could be set up quicker.

“Preliminary conversations with multiple insurance carriers have already begun, interest is high and preliminarily the costs are, to be honest, potentially shockingly low,” Sununu said.

Scott said the estimated cost to Vermont would be about $2.5 million per year, which would be paid by the state.

Providing paid family leave to workers in both states has been a contentious issue.

Last year, the Vermont Legislature passed a bill, which Scott vetoed because it would have been paid for with tax that would have been deducted from workers’ paychecks. In his inaugural address, Scott said he was working on a voluntary paid family leave program.

In New Hampshire, the Republican-led House last year passed a bill to provide up to 12 weeks of paid time off, but the bill died in the Senate after Sununu opposed it. Though he argued it was financially unsustainable, he didn’t offer a plan of his own at the time and was criticized during his re-election campaign for referring to such leave as a “vacation.”

The idea was conceived by New Hampshire officials who then presented it to their Vermont counterparts.


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