Government

State Sen. Beth Bye of West Hartford Offers Personal Testimony in Support of Paid Family and Medical Leave Bill

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The legislative intern for State Sen. Beth Bye (D-5th) of West Hartford read written testimony in support of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Bill on Thursday, while Bye herself was on leave caring for her wife.

Legislative Intern Jennifer Martin reads testimony written by State Sen. Beth Bye. Submitted photo

Legislative Intern Jennifer Martin reads testimony written by State Sen. Beth Bye. Submitted photo

Submitted

State Sen. Beth Bye (D-West Hartford) was not in Hartford in person Thursday to testify in support of paid family medical leave, but her personal testimony still rang true.

Bye was instead in Bethesda, MD, with her wife Tracey, who is undergoing cancer treatment at the National Institutes of Health.

So Bye’s 2017 legislative intern, Trinity College junior Jennifer Martin, read Bye’s testimony to the Labor and Public Employees Committee in support of Senate Bill 1, which seeks the creation of a paid family and medical leave policy in Connecticut.

Bye noted in her testimony that if it were not for her own full-time employment and her wife’s retirement savings, they would be like tens of thousands of other Connecticut residents: unable to take unaffordable, unpaid time off from work for fear of losing a home or a job, possibly at the cost of a loved one.

“I have missed over 20 days of work, and Tracey has missed some work, although she has been able to rely on some retirement income. I expect to miss many more days of work in the coming months in order to care for Tracey as she lives with cancer,” Bye wrote. “If our family did not have some safety net, we would be unable to meet monthly expenses, and we would literally be faced with choosing between paying our mortgage and caring for a loved one. This is not a hypothetical problem for tens of thousands of Connecticut residents; it is their reality.”

Senate Bill 1 is a “concept” bill seeking the creation of some sort of paid family and medical leave in Connecticut, the specific details of which have yet to be determined.

Below is Bye’s public testimony on Senate Bill 1, as read by Bye’s 2017 legislative intern, Trinity College junior Jennifer Martin of Ridgewood, N.J., who is majoring in public policy and law and education studies:

Good Day Senator Gomes, Senator Miner, Representative Porter and members of the Labor Committee.

I am sending you this testimony from the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, where I am with my wife Tracey, who is undergoing cancer treatment here for the next four weeks.

The issue of Paid Family and Medical Leave is one that has immediate implications for our family because we both have been – and will be – missing work in order to care for a sick family member, as well as due to general illness.

Let me begin by suggesting that the bill as it was structured last year would have been better labeled “Earned Family and Medical Leave.”

All of the funds would have been contributed by workers themselves; employees would have paid the full cost. Employers were not asked to pony-up one penny on behalf of their employees for paid leave. The same proposed bill idea in Massachusetts had an employer co-pay.

Connecticut has many strengths. It is known for its top-quality workforce, its good health relative to other states, and its high quality of life. These rankings don’t just happen: they are the result of strategic investments and good public policy.

For a century, we in Connecticut have invested, per-capita, more than almost any other state in education, higher education, health care, and the environment. These strengths are the reason why so many of us have settled in Connecticut, or stayed in Connecticut.

Now it is time for Connecticut to help lead the nation _ and to join virtually every other nation in the world _ to provide paid time off when a person is ill or a family member needs care.

As I write this, I wonder: Where would my family be today if both Tracey and I were hourly workers and did not have enough sick time or vacation time while Tracey needs care?

I have missed over 20 days of work, and Tracey has missed some work, although she has been able to rely on some retirement income. I expect to miss many more days of work in the coming months in order to care for Tracey as she lives with cancer.

If our family did not have some safety net, we would be unable to meet monthly expenses, and we would literally be faced with choosing between paying our mortgage and caring for a loved one. This is not a hypothetical problem for tens of thousands of Connecticut residents; it is their reality.

This problem hits low- and middle-income families hardest. A 2016 Massachusetts study found that for those with a family income below the federal poverty level, only 25 percent received some type of wage replacement when they took leave. But for those families that were making twice the federal poverty level income, nearly 80 percent received some type of wage replacement.

A paid family and medical leave program would help to reduce this heartbreaking inequity and allow low- income and other workers to care for themselves and their families.

I urge you that when this Paid Family Medical leave bill is drafted, please ensure that it is a strong bill. Let Connecticut lead with a bill that gives at least eight weeks of paid leave to cover sick people and their caregivers.

This is an issue of basic fairness. One’s socioeconomic status should not determine one’s ability to care for a sick family member, or to receive paid time off when you are sick.

This is such a clear, missing piece in our social safety net and in our public health care policy, not only here in Connecticut, but across the nation. The rest of the world gets it. It’s time for Connecticut to get it.

Let’s lead America once again in creating humane public policies that support families, support health, and support our future economy.

Thank you.

State Senator Beth Bye

D-West Hartford

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