- Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
- Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday
Under Scott's program, Vermont employers can offer their workers at least six weeks of paid time off to bond with a new child, recover from illness or care for a family member. Workers would receive 60 percent of their salary and could take the benefit all at once or spread it out over a year.
The program is similar to one the state sought to create with New Hampshire four years ago but which went nowhere due to differences in the two states' approaches.
New Hampshire’s program is going live on January 1. Scott said Vermont never gave up on making its program a reality, as well. He said that, after a competitive bidding process, the state inked a contract with Connecticut-based insurer the Hartford.
“The innovative approach we are launching today gives Vermonters and employers the choice to opt in to this program,” Scott said.
Residents and employers around the state have consistently told him that they didn’t want a program that requires their participation, he said, an approach favored by Democratic lawmakers who view paid leave as a right.
Lawmakers have pushed hard to require businesses to offer paid family and medical leave funded by payroll taxes, arguing that the larger pool of workers would keep costs down. Scott said his approach accomplishes similar goals without raising payroll taxes on workers and “without a one-size-fits-all mandate” for businesses.
The state plans to encourage private businesses to offer the benefits to help attract much needed workers to Vermont, Scott said.
Democratic leaders immediately panned the proposal and pledged to push forward with a broader benefit. House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) said in a statement that it "does not meet the needs of Vermonters in this moment.”
“I was happy to hear that the Governor is open to discussion on a universal, more inclusive program and I look forward to working with the Governor and his team this coming session,” Krowinski said.
- Kevin McCallum
- Gov. Phil Scott
“Paid family and medical leave isn’t a nice thing to have, it is a must have,” she said in a statement. “All Vermont workers deserve a minimum of 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.”
Lawmakers could withhold the $2 million the administration needs to launch the initiative, but Krowinski said she did not plan to block the program that way.
Krowinski and Gray are cohosting a “legislative summit”on childcare and paid family leave on December 8, at the Vermont Statehouse.
Whether the voluntary program could become a universal one was not clear. Jonathan Bennett of the Hartford said he was confident the program could be expanded later if Vermont opts to do so.
The first people to get paid leave will be the approximately 8,000 state workers whose unions negotiated for the benefit in 2019. They’ll be eligible for paid leave starting on July 1, 2023. This first phase of the program will cost the state about $2 million annually.
On July 1, 2024, private companies and other entities with at least two employees will have the option to offer the benefit, as well. Businesses could either pay the premiums themselves or leave that up to workers.
Costs will likely range between $16 and $32 per person per month, depending on the business, said Financial Regulation Commissioner Kevin Gaffney.
The final phase begins in 2025 and would allow anyone to join the program.
Gaffney said the phased arrangement allows the Hartford to “leverage the state employee base as a springboard” to establish a financially sound program that other employers and eventually all workers in the state could benefit from.