Now, more than one and a half years into the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become too clear that having the ability to care for our loved ones and our own health is an essential part of building a prosperous and resilient workforce and economy.
Yet, due to decades of inaction to implement essential social safety nets, the U.S. has become a global outlier lacking paid leave, making our workforce completely vulnerable to this and other possible pandemics and wreaking havoc in our families’ and country’s financial stability.
But New Mexico has a unique opportunity to take matters into its own hands. We have the opportunity to join a growing list of states that are creating and successfully implementing paid family and medical leave – a program that would be administered by the state, to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for employees to welcome a new child, care for a family member with a serious health concern or manage their own serious medical condition.
How it would work is simple. Employee and employer contributions will fund compensation payments and administration of the paid leave fund, providing exemptions for employers with fewer than 10 employees. After contributing for at least six months and submitting an application, employees will receive a percentage of their average weekly wages for up to 12 weeks. Self-employed individuals can opt into the program.
This isn’t only a common-sense program, but it is also a cost-effective one with estimates of contributions for this fund ranging from $2 to $4 every week. And voters of all types agree this would support families in great ways to achieve their desired short-term and long-term stability. According to an October 2021 poll commissioned by the Southwest Women’s Law Center on behalf of the PFML Coalition, 77% of voters surveyed across the state stated they support the creation of a family and medical leave program. And this is no surprise as PFML programs in other states have been shown to address health disparities, close the racial wealth gap and lessen the economic impacts of caregiving on women, especially in communities of color.
PFML programs have also shown to be effective in improving employee performance and engagement. Recent studies show employees who take paid leave are less likely to take sick leave when they return, more likely to be employed by the same business two years later, and more likely to report high morale and workplace satisfaction. In other words this is a win-win for employees, employers and our local and state economies.
In the upcoming 30-day session, we will have the opportunity to set the right foundation for the implementation of one of the country’s most effective and impactful paid leave programs in the country. Because by creating a PFML program, we will ensure economic security for New Mexico workers and communities now and in the future.
It is time for the Legislature to act to ensure New Mexico workers no longer face the loss of their livelihood due to a health condition or family caregiving responsibilities. Now is the time to protect our workers.