Del. Ariana Kelly Rallies Supporters of State Family and Medical Leave Fund

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Del. Ariana Kelly Rallies Supporters of State Family and Medical Leave Fund

The District 16 delegate is advocating for the bill

March 1, 2016 

District 16 Del. Ariana Kelly on Monday gathered county elected officials, other delegates and advocates from around the state to push for a Paid Family and Medical Leave Program in Maryland.

Kelly, who represents Bethesda, introduced a bill earlier this legislative session that would create a state-run insurance fund that would pay employees two-thirds of their regular wages for up to 12 weeks if they need to take time off to care for a new child, recover from serious illness or injury or help an aging relative.

On Monday at the Silver Spring Civic Building, Kelly and County Council member Tom Hucker held a press conference in an effort to garner more attention for the bill, which is sponsored by Baltimore City state Sen. Catherine Pugh in the state Senate.

“This bill is really a labor of love, not just for me, but for the 73 sponsors in the House of Delegates, and the 22 sponsors in the Senate, as well as a number of supporters we have on the Montgomery County Council and county councils across the state,” Kelly said Monday.

On Tuesday afternoon, the bill was set to go before the House Economic Matters Committee for testimony and a possible recommendation out of committee. The bill is set to go before the Senate Economic Matters Committee on Thursday.

According to the bill, the money for the fund would be provided via a payroll tax, one of the state and federal taxes such as Social Security and Medicare that employers are required to withhold from an employee’s paycheck. The system is modeled on similar state programs in New Jersey, Rhode Island and California, and legislation passed last month in the New York House.

Kelly, who is the executive director of a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit called Suited for Change, said she and Pugh worked to make sure the bill wouldn’t be too cumbersome for business owners.

“I’m not just a family person. I’m also an employer. I understand tight budgets,” Kelly said Monday. “I understand the need to meet payroll and how challenging that can be. I’ve been both the pregnant employee who needs paid maternity leave and the employer who does not know how she’s going to pay for that.”

Cindy Carter, president of the Ellicott City-based nonprofit Cancer Support Foundation, said at the press conference that she’s seeing more and more people with cancer stop their treatments because they don’t have enough money to pay for the treatments and ordinary household bills.

“Three months’ paid family leave is a godsend,” Carter said. “It’s the difference for my clients being able to continue to stay in treatment and know they’re going to have the lights on.”

Colleen Jenkins, a member of the Moms Rising advocacy group Kelly worked for from 2009 to 2011, spoke about having to find childcare for her 5-week old baby against the wishes of her doctor and said her need to go back to work hurt her breastfeeding routine.

“If I had been eligible for paid leave, I could’ve avoided spending thousands of dollars and going further into debt,” Jenkins said. “I made a lot of late payments and I had to make some very difficult choices about which bills to pay.”

Kelly referenced a 2014 study by the International Labor Organization that found all countries in the world except for Papua New Guinea have laws mandating parental or family leave.

Hucker, who was joined by council member Hans Riemer and state Dels. David Moon (Takoma Park, Silver Spring) and Pat Young (Baltimore County), said the General Assembly should pass the bill because there’s little chance of such a measure passing Congress.

“Papua New Guinea is always good comedic material at paid family leave press conferences, but I think we don’t want to be in that company any longer,” Hucker said.

Federal law requires companies to provide employees with unpaid family or medical leave.

“This is also a very stark class issue in my district,” said Hucker, who represents Silver Spring and much of the eastern part of the county. “We have a lot of upper-income parents who are at companies that have very generous paid leave policies [and] savings to take more leave when they have to. We have many working class families who are one accident, one illness or one baby away from a devastating situation.”

Kelly said she planned to reveal initial results of a Department of Labor-funded studyas to how much paid family leave would cost in Montgomery County and the state at Tuesday’s committee hearing.

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