Support shown for Healthy Delaware Families Act

Bill to provide paid leave could move out of committee soon

By Joseph Edelen
Posted 4/6/22

DOVER — The Healthy Delaware Families Act — whose sponsors hope will relieve financial stress by providing workers family and medical leave — made progress Wednesday in a House of Representatives committee.

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Support shown for Healthy Delaware Families Act

Bill to provide paid leave could move out of committee soon


DOVER — The Healthy Delaware Families Act — whose sponsors hope will relieve financial stress by providing workers family and medical leave — made progress Wednesday in a House of Representatives committee.

Senate Substitute 2 to Senate Bill 1 is expected to advance in the House Health & Human Development Committee, possibly as early as Thursday.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Sarah McBride, D-Wilmington, would provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for a qualifying circumstance through the state’s paid leave trust fund.

If passed, Delawareans would be provided up to 12 weeks of paternity and maternity leave and up to six weeks of paid family caregiving leave, paid medical leave or paid military leave every two years.

The bill would not require businesses with less than 25 employees to participate in the medical and family caregiving aspect. Businesses with fewer than 10 workers would not be required to accommodate parental leave but could opt in. Also, any company with comparable benefits would have the option to opt out.

The Healthy Delaware Families Act would create a state insurance program to allow employees to receive up to 80% of their average weekly wages, which Sen. McBride said will benefit families at critical times.

“Today in Delaware, an overwhelming majority of workers still do not have access to paid family and medical leave,” she said Wednesday. “Too many Delaware families are forced to sacrifice their income and financial security precisely when they need it the most.”

Sen. McBride began working on the act upon taking office in January 2021. After its introduction, the legislation received pushback from businesses, leading the senator to address their concern. After consulting organizations such as the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, she said she bettered the proposal, ultimately introducing SS 2 to align with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Federally, some workers are provided job protections should they need an extended absence of work for family or medical reasons. Through this policy, however, employees are not guaranteed pay during their absence and a majority of Delaware workers do not meet the criteria for such protections.

In addition to the Chamber of Commerce, Sen. McBride said she contacted AARP and the Delaware Nurses Association, as well as public health advocates. She noted that she carefully considered all questions regarding the bill, hoping to solve an issue incredibly important to her.

“In the course of the last year and over 200 hours of conversation, the legislation that is before us has been produced, making meaningful compromises and meaningful changes from the original legislation, that would craft a Delaware solution for Delaware challenges,” she said.

In states that carry similar programs, up to 90% of employers say their paid family and medical leave has either no impact or a positive impact on their bottom lines, according to Sen. McBride.

But Reps. Bryan Shupe, R-Milford, and Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, said they are concerned about industry challenges should this legislation take effect.

They noted that the act could pose problems for the Department of Labor, which is still recovering from pandemic-related issues. Rep. Shupe added that it’s unnecessary to potentially burden the department with more responsibility, suggesting a way to improve the bill. “We should have a serious look at implementing a third-party or another entity at the front of this,” he said. “I do think that this could cause an exacerbated strain on the Department of Labor, who is already strained with resources.”

He continued, “Having a third party handle this is a much more fiscally prudent way, but it also would streamline the process, which is better for businesses and employees who will get those benefits.”

Rep. Briggs King agreed, saying similar legislation in other states has resulted in a high number of applicants, and should that happen in Delaware, the stress could overwhelm labor officials. She said these difficulties may result in outsourcing delays, which could be avoided if a third party is implemented.

One of the bill’s additional sponsors, Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, cited the importance of tending to a newborn child or being with a loved one in the final stages of life. She added that the pandemic was a motivating factor behind her support, and that she wants to assure workers the opportunity to be there when their family is in need.

“What the pandemic has shown us is that we cannot take good health for granted. We need to be able to make sure that employees are able to be with their loved ones when they experience a medical emergency,” she said.

Being with family members during trying times also was a motivation for Sen. McBride. She said the legislation provides a solution to that problem, and that her fellow lawmakers have the opportunity to make significant change.

“At the end of the day, the ability to take care of your health, the ability to be there with a child in those first few weeks of their precious life, the ability to be able to care for a loved one for serious — and, in some cases, fatal — illnesses shouldn’t be a matter of the law. It should be a law of the land,” she said.

The bill received a vote of seven for and five against in the House Health & Human Development Committee on Wednesday, falling just short of the required eight to be released out of committee. However, two of the act’s sponsors — Reps. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, and Nnamdi Chukwuocha, D-Wilmington — were absent, leading the chair, Rep. David Bentz, D-Christiana, to bring the bill back for another committee vote, since it likely would have received the required support.

Rep. Lynn and Rep. Chukwuocha will now have the opportunity to vote on the legislation, which is expected to be released as early as Thursday.

Once the bill is released from committee, it has one more step before reaching the full House. Since it includes a fiscal note, it must be heard in the Appropriations Committee before reaching the chamber.

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