Bonding with your newborn baby. Watching over an ill spouse. Taking care of a parent who can no longer take care of themselves.

The truth is, nothing is more important than being there when family needs you most.

But too many Mainers aren’t able to provide care for loved ones without putting their job at risk. Legislators this year can change that — and they should without hesitation.

Maine deserves a statewide paid leave program, one that leaves the workforce stronger and allows families to deal with the inevitable trials of life.

Last week, a legislative commission laid out the options for such a program. It will be up to legislators, driven by a Democratic majority favorable to paid leave, to decide how to proceed.

If legislators don’t act this year, waiting in the wings is a referendum from a progressive group that could force them to do so as early as 2025.


They shouldn’t wait. Lawmakers should use this session to work through the details and create a program that most everyone involved can live with.

Indications are that the program would provide up to 12 weeks of leave at roughly 80% of pay, up to 120% of the median wage, to care for a sick or elderly relative, or a newborn baby.

It would be paid for by a payroll tax of up to 1%, to be split in some fashion between employers and employees. Businesses with 15 or fewer employees would be exempt, but could opt in to the program, as could their employees, as well as the self-employed.

There is no doubt it is necessary to do this. Federal law guarantees unpaid “job-protected” leave for certain employees. But not every employer has to offer that unpaid leave, and besides, many workers cannot afford to take the time off without pay, and more than one-third are left out altogether, putting many low- and middle-income adults at risk of losing either their job or crucial wages when a health crisis arrives, or when they start a family.

Whichever they choose, they lose out — they are forced to give up either invaluable, irreplaceable time with the people who love and depend on them most, or the job that pays for housing, food and the rest of life’s necessities.

That’s a decision that is only required in the United States, which is alone among wealthy countries in not having a nationwide paid leave program.


In response, 13 states and D.C. have passed their own paid leave programs, including four of our New England neighbors. Their experience tells us what to expect if paid leave is successful here.

Parents with access to paid leave form better relationships with their children. Fathers are more involved, and mother and children are more healthy.

Workers with paid leave are much less likely to be unable to pay their bills or experience hunger. They use less public assistance. They are better able to arrange child care and better able to stay in the workforce.

Just look at the caregiving sector, which is dominated by women. Providers throughout the state have had difficulty finding enough workers to take care of children and the elderly, in large part because too many woman are forced to choose between work and taking care of their families.

That, in turn, means that many other Maine families can’t find someone to look after their child or aging parent, putting at risk either their place in the workforce or their ability to look after their family.

That is just one of the costs of not having a paid leave program.


Some are worried about covering the cost of such a program. Rep. Joshua Morris, a Republican from Turner, said that “Maine’s small businesses and workers are already dealing with high inflation, labor, energy, food and healthcare costs,” and that paid leave would only add to their burden.

But in states where paid leave has already been in place for years, businesses report few problems. In fact, they’ve found it easier to hold on to employees.

And those employees sleep better knowing that if someone they love gets sick, or if they welcome a child into the world, they’ll be able to give them the attention they need and deserve.

What could be more important than that?

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