Paid Family & Medical Leave is an Investment in New Mexico’s Future
Tracy McDaniel, MPH
Southwest Women’s Law Center
In the last few years, Southwest Women’s Law Center has led a coalition advocating for the passage of Paid Family & Medical Leave Act (PFMLA) in the NM state legislature. PFMLA would create a state-administered trust fund that ensures that no one has to choose between their job and caring for a new child, a family member with a serious health concern, or their own serious medical condition.
Last year, the Doña Ana County Early Childhood Education Coalition, a part of the prenatal to career education initiative called the SUCCESS Partnership, joined a growing number of organizations, individuals, and small business owners asking the state to make this critical investment in working families. Bringing Paid Family & Medical Leave to New Mexico is a goal of the Children Born into Healthy Homes Action Network, and the reasons are clear.
In states with PFML programs, families who take paid leave to welcome a new child have better outcomes. PFML programs have been found to decrease child abuse injuries and infant mortality, increase vaccination and breastfeeding rates, and improve the physical and mental health of parents during the first two years of life. The U.S. is the only wealthy nation that does not offer any guaranteed paid leave to new parents. We can and must find ways to help New Mexicans create a balance between work obligations and caring for their health and their family.
The program proposed for New Mexico is based on models that have been passed and are now being implemented in other states, including Washington, Oregon, and (most recently) Colorado. After an initial investment of $30 million dollars which will be repaid to the state within the first five years of the program, employee and employer contributions will fund compensation payments and administration of the fund.
After contributing to the fund for at least six months and submitting an application to the Department of Workforce Solutions, workers will receive a percentage of their average weekly wages for up to 12 weeks of leave. Self-employed individuals can opt into the program. Employees and self-employed individuals will receive leave compensation payments directly from the Trust Fund. During an employee’s leave period, employers will benefit from wage savings, which may be used to pay overtime wages for current employees, hire a temporary replacement, or invest in other ways.
The costs for each worker are modest with a full-time minimum wage worker paying only $109.20 annually and their employer paying $87.36 annually. Both employers and workers benefit from Paid Family & Medical Leave programs. Employers who offer paid family and medical leave have a competitive advantage in hiring and retention. PFML programs are effective in improving worker performance and engagement. Workers who take paid leave are more likely to be employed by the same business two years later, less likely to take sick leave when they return to work, and more likely to report high morale and workplace satisfaction.
Like the public sector in NM, large corporations understand this competitive edge. These corporations are increasingly likely to offer private paid leave programs to attract and retain high-quality workers. However, few of our homegrown NM businesses are large enough to easily absorb the costs of offering this benefit. New Mexico is proud to offer entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small businesses an opportunity to innovate, experiment, and grow right here in the Land of Enchantment. PFMLA can support small businesses, improve recruitment and retention, and promote innovation by allowing entrepreneurs to take business risks without fearing the loss of income if they or a loved one becomes unexpectedly ill.
By committing to PFMLA, our state can support working families, level the playing field for small businesses, and creating a safety net for business owners and their workers. An investment in Paid Family & Medical Leave is an investment in New Mexico’s future.
The Paid Family & Medical Leave Coalition is led by Southwest Women’s Law Center. For more information, please visit www.swwomenslaw.org.