This election year, politicians and pundits will have opinions and proposals to help Connecticut workers and families as they face continued economic challenges. In these challenging times, it is important to remember that some Connecticut communities have even greater hurdles to making ends meet.
A recent analysis conducted by the financial website WalletHub found that Connecticut ranked as having the fifth-greatest wealth gap, with Hispanic and Black households struggling the most due to factors like unequal access to higher education and to employment opportunities for minorities. In 2020, Connecticut’s United Ways issued their ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Report which found that 57% of Black households and 63% of Hispanic households in the state lived below the ALICE threshold; that is, their household income is above the Federal Poverty Level but below the basic cost of living threshold. The COVID pandemic has only made things worse. Fortunately, there is hope for Connecticut workers because of the state’s paid family and medical leave program.
Connecticut, one of only eight states in the nation (and the District of Columbia) to offer paid leave, provides a source of income replacement for eligible employees who cannot work due to qualifying health or family reasons. While both federal and state Family and Medical Leave Acts provide job protection during qualifying leaves, neither provides income replacement.
Some private employers may choose to offer paid leave and others may require workers to use their earned time off accruals like sick time and vacation time. But what happens to those whose employers don’t offer these policies? What happens to workers who simply don’t get paid if they can’t work, even if the reason is due to illness or injury? While a worker may be able to get their job back after taking leave due to the protections provided by FMLA, many are unable to take the time they need in the first place because they cannot afford to forgo their paycheck. Connecticut’s law gives workers the assurance to take the time they need to attend to their own health needs or those of their family and not have to worry about paying the bills or putting food on the table.
There are several qualifying reasons to apply for paid leave. Medical leave is leave taken by a worker to receive treatment for, or to recover from, their own serious health condition. This includes serving as an organ or bone-marrow donor, and pregnancy. Caregiver leave is taken by a worker to provide physical or psychological care or comfort for a family member experiencing a serious health condition.
Connecticut’s law also expands the definition of family members to include extended family as well as people who have a significant personal bond that is like a family relationship, such as the unmarried significant other of an employee. Bonding leave is taken by a worker not only for the time physically spent with a newborn baby or newly placed child, but also the time needed to process adoption or foster care placement. This leave is available to both mothers and fathers and can be taken anytime during the 12 months after the birth or placement.
Family violence leave is available to workers who are victims of family violence to seek medical or psychological care, to obtain services, to relocate, or to participate in civil or criminal proceedings.
Finally, individuals caring for a family member who is a member of the military and has experienced a serious injury or illness that occurred in the line of federal active duty are also eligible for benefits, and qualifying exigency leave is available to workers who have a parent, spouse, or child on federal active duty or who have been notified of an impending call to duty.
In short, Connecticut’s program is robust in providing much-needed financial help for workers in need. The ALICE report stated, “the COVID-19 Pandemic and resulting economic crisis has disproportionately affected households living below the ALICE threshold and highlighted ALICE’s vulnerability to hardship from both illness and economic disruption.”
For the 52% of workers who are paid an hourly wage – retail workers, nursing assistants, childcare workers, home health aides, food service workers, and car mechanics – it only takes one emergency to bring on a financial crisis. Now, new parents, the injured and the ill, and caregivers can rest easier knowing they can have income security when they are most vulnerable.