Sen. McBride holds roundtables about bill to create 12 weeks of family and medical leave in Delaware

By Leann Schenke
Posted 12/2/21

DOVER — As activist Andrea Brown-Clarke said, a paid family and medical leave program is long overdue in Delaware.

The phrase “could have been useful” was something Ms. …

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Sen. McBride holds roundtables about bill to create 12 weeks of family and medical leave in Delaware

Posted

DOVER — As activist Andrea Brown-Clarke said, a paid family and medical leave program is long overdue in Delaware.

The phrase “could have been useful” was something Ms. Brown-Clarke repeated when recounting times in her life that she and her family needed paid leave — like when she was hospitalized after the birth of her second child, but her husband did not have the option of taking off work to be with her.

Or when her grandmother was diagnosed with dementia and she was the only family member able to take an extended leave of absence from her job to care for her.

“It’s time for us to make a change,” Ms. Brown-Clarke said. “I believe when we know better, we do better, so let’s get this passed.”

Introduced by Sen. Sarah McBride, D-Claymont, the Healthy Delaware Families Act or Senate Bill 1 aims to create a statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program that offers 12 weeks of job-protected leave.

If approved, SB 1 would create a family and medical trust modeled after similar programs already passed in nine states and Washington, D.C. Workers could still be paid up to 80% of their average weekly wages through the state insurance program when forced to take extended time off from work due to a major medical event.

Sen. McBride is hosting a series of roundtable discussions with participants who have a personal connection to paid leave, as well as medical and mental health professionals.

The second roundtable was held Wednesday at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover. It follows a roundtable in New Castle County. Another will be offered in Sussex County.

Among the benefits of paid leave Sen. McBride spoke to in her introduction — improved productivity, workforce participation, morale and retention — she said a paid leave program also levels the playing field between small businesses and larger ones.

A state insurance program, she said, helps small businesses that might not be able to offer benefits like larger corporations are able to pay for.

State Treasurer Colleen C. Davis agreed, saying SB 1 aims to equalize the level of benefits offered by small businesses.

“It makes it so that we can attract, as small business owners, we can attract talented, young, invigorated people as well as seasoned, experienced and amazing employees,” Ms. Davis said.

State Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro also said it’s “past time” the state offer a paid leave program.

On a personal note, Sen. McBride said she served as a caregiver to her late husband, Andy, as he battled cancer. Sen. McBride said they both had paid leave through their jobs — meaning he was able to take off work without fear of losing his job and she was able to be with him for his radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

“Eventually, when we found out that his cancer was terminal, paid leave policies allowed us to be there for one another in those final few days,” Sen. McBride said. “They allowed us to marry. They allowed me to be at his side, at his bedside when he passed away four days later.”

Sen. McBride said as tragic as her story is, she counts herself lucky because she had access to a paid leave program. She said the majority of workers in Delaware do not have access to paid leave — or even unpaid leave — through their jobs.

“That status quo is not only unsustainable, it is cruel,” she said.

The Rev. Rita Paige spoke to the potential benefits the bill could have on single mothers. Through her experience working with the Delaware State Housing Authority, the Rev. Paige said she often saw single mothers who were not able to have enough time off after delivering a child — especially those who went through a cesarean delivery.

“Their bodies had not had time to completely heal because they were in employment where they didn’t have that much time off or didn’t have paid medical leave,” she said. “I saw some of the mental impacts, the emotional impacts, how it set some of them in depression.”

Dr. Kerry Campbell, a physician with the Dedicated to Women practice, said the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists endorses paid leave as essential.

She added the United States is the only developed country with a rising maternal mortality rate. Paid leave, she said, would keep mothers from returning to work too soon after giving birth out of fear they might lose their job.

She said paid leave is important in ensuring mothers get adequate postpartum care, as well.

“Having access to postpartum care is also essential, as more than one half of pregnancy-related deaths do occur in this postpartum period,” Dr. Campbell said. “By allowing our mothers the opportunity to follow these appointments, it can improve both their health, and like I said, the health of their newborn.”

Fleur McKendall, president of the Central Delaware NAACP, spoke to the need for paid leave for Black mothers, in particular. While she said other races and ethnicities face challenges, too, this program would advance racial and gender equity while also ensuring the economic security of Black women and their families.

“There’s a growing body of research that shows that mothers from racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to take leave from work due to discrimination in hiring practices that often leave them occupying lower-paying jobs — that don’t offer paid leave, sick or otherwise, as a benefit,” Ms. McKendall said.

She said despite higher rates of illness and death among Black women, many opt out of necessary treatment in order to continue working.

Katie Macklin, senior director of advocacy with the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter, said, as the population of the first state ages, more workers will likely become responsible for providing care to older family members.

She said providing access to a state paid leave program can lessen potential financial burden on families.

“Without access to paid family leave, families face financial hardships or risk losing their jobs if they have to take time off to address significant caregiver needs,” she said.

Tim Gibbs, director of the Delaware Academy of Medicine and the Delaware Public Health Association, said, from a public health standpoint, paid leave policies can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

He said municipalities that already had programs in place last year, saw fewer COVID-19 positive employees. That’s because people would take off work, using paid leave, when they felt sick rather than coming into work even if they were symptomatic.

“In public health, we want to be about prevention. We want to break cycles,” Mr. Gibbs said.