New Hampshire

New England States Teaming Up on Paid Family Leave

The governors of New Hampshire and Vermont want to team up on a plan they say could become a model for the nation in expanding valued benefits to more workers, predicting their idea could do so efficiently and with few burdens on employers.

Touring a brewery in Littleton, New Hampshire that draws its workforce half from New Hampshire and half from Vermont, Govs. Chris Sununu and Phil Scott, both Republicans, proposed a novel approach to paid medical and family leave—a legislative challenge that’s seen their respective statehouses balancing important cushions for working families against business impacts.

“In so many ways, New Hampshire and Vermont are in the same boat together,” observed New Hampshire’s Gov. Chris Sununu.

Under their “Twin State Voluntary Leave Plan,” the governors would combine their respective states’ 18,500 state employees into one pool large enough, they said, to become attractive to a private insurance carrier.

That carrier would then be required to also allow private sector employees to opt in, as well as workers whose companies don’t offer paid leave plans.

“The plan would be voluntary, and not serve as an income tax,” Sununu said at the announcement Wednesday.

The proposal aims for 60 percent wage replacement for six weeks, for big life events like the birth of a child or caring for a sick spouse.

Scott and Sununu said they believe benefits under the system could help businesses attract applicants needed for growth, with few burdens.

“If we are successful in each of our state legislatures, we could establish a model and a standard for the rest of the country,” Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont said.

Political pushback is already starting. The New Hampshire Democratic Party called the announcement “ill-thought-out and underdeveloped.”

A statement from NHDP chair Ray Buckley called on Gov. Sununu to work more closely with the Democratic majority in the New Hampshire Legislature to craft a system that he said would work better for Granite Staters.

“I have a hard time believing an opt-in will work, financially,” said Vermont Senate Majority Leader Sen. Becca Balint, a Democrat representing Windham County.

Balint said based on past testimony she’s heard on the issue, she believes the insurance pool would need to be much larger to offer the kind of leave benefits she thinks workers deserve.

Still, Balint said she’s open to hearing more from the governors and that she appreciates that they recognize paid family leave is a key component to attracting people who want to work and live in northern New England.

“This is going to continue to be a concern for us as we try to attract young families to Vermont,” Balint said of paid family leave.

Govs. Sununu and Scott asked lawmakers in their respective states to keep an open mind about their proposal and said teaming up will help the small states have a bigger impact on the family needs of their workforces.

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