Not everyone is happy about the state’s decision to award a contract to administer the state’s new paid family and medical leave program to a Fortune 500 company.
Union officials, advocates, and two lawmakers who fought for passage of the program in 2019 felt the state Department of Labor would have been able to handle the work internally. Instead, the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority contracted with Aflac to handle the claims work.
The $72 million, three year contract was announced last week.
The paid leave program created a mandatory payroll deduction of 0.5 percent for all private sector and non-unionized state employees. Workers can start making claims for the money to care for a sick family member, have a baby, or benefits for their own sick leave starting Jan. 1, 2022.
Carlos Moreno, state director of the Connecticut Working Families, a lead organization that helped lead the fight for the program, said the program will become less straightforward with Aflac running the claims.
“Connecticut taxpayers expect the states paid family medical leave program to be reliable, transparent, and accountable to them,” Moreno said.
He worries that things won’t be as transparent.
Xavier Gordon, AFSCME Local 289, who works in the Department of Labor, said that they should have been given an opportunity to administer the program internally.
“Selecting Aflac continues this administrations pattern of handing out expensive contracts to private companies to perform DOL functions,” Gordon said.
He added that “We believe paid family and medical leave insurance should be administered by workers who by career choice and training are subject matter experts dedicated to protecting the public interest.”
But Andrea Barton Reeves, head of the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority, said there were no state agencies already doing claims administration.
“Claims administration is not a service that any state agency provides,” Barton Reeves said.
She said the tight deadlines her agency needed to meet required them to find a partner to help get the money workers paid into the program out the door.
“The statute requires that payments begin in January. So there’s this extremely short deadline, timeline in which to build a very sophisticated structure,” Barton Reeves said.
She said that Aflac already had the infrastructure in place “so that people could get their benefits on time and with the quality that they deserve.”
The company has promised to create 150 jobs in Windsor to support the program.
But 150 good paying jobs is not good enough for Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven.
“That’s always good news to have jobs coming to Connecticut, but what we’re saying is we also have DOL workers who are well equipped and subject matter experts,” Porter said.
The jobs will pay about $40,000 a year and are not contract jobs.
“Of course, 150 jobs that’s great, but there’s also other issues that come with that,” Porter said.
She said she’s also concerned the state contracting standards board was defunded as part of the budget process.
“I am definitely committed to making sure that we keep our eyes on the prize. That we make sure the workers of this state and their hard earned money goes to do exactly what it was designated to do and that is to provide them relief when they need to take leave from work,” Porter said.
Barton Reeves said lawmakers don’t have anything to worry about.
“Aflacs default is to pay the benefit. If a claim is made and the person meets the statutory qualifications for a claim then the claim will be paid,” Barton Reeves said.
There’s an automatic escalation process for any claim that is denied for an additional review and everything comes to the paid leave authority for their review.
“There is no incentive built into this contract for Aflac to deny any claims. The incentive quite honestly is for them to pay those claims,” she added.