Every year, thousands of Minnesotans are faced with a difficult dilemma: go to work and earn a living or stay at home to care for a new, aging, or sick family member. This impossible conundrum pits work against family, putting many Minnesotans in dire financial circumstances that unnecessarily strain both them and their communities.
During this last legislative session, Minnesota’s DFL-House passed a bill that could have alleviated the burden of affording at-home care. Unfortunately for families across Minnesota, Republicans let the bill die in the Senate. Once again, Republicans failed to grasp the importance of measures like Paid Family and Medical Leave, which would help establish a stable financial foundation for Minnesota workers currently struggling to balance earning an income and caring for their families.
Today, 59 percent of Minnesotans lack access to any sort of family or medical leave, and only about 15 percent of Minnesotans have access to paid family or medical leave through their employer. Important to remember is that most of us will one day be confronted by the choice between working a job and providing at-home care, and 66 percent of voters in the U.S. agree they would likely face severe financial difficulty if forced to take unpaid family or medical leave.
This issue clearly affects all Minnesotans. With the costs of medical, infant, and elder-care skyrocketing, a real chasm yawns between what families need and what they can afford. Minnesotans need and deserve paid family and medical leave, and the plain answer to this conundrum is a statewide program guaranteeing that Minnesota workers can take time off to care for themselves and their families while maintaining a portion of their income.
In response to this need, Gov. Tim Walz and DFL Rep. Laurie Halverson proposed The Paid Family & Medical Leave Act, a bill that outlined a viable paid-leave plan for Minnesota. Allowing for up to 12 weeks of paid leave with costs split evenly between employers and employees, workers would contribute an average of only $2 to $3 a week to fund the program. This bill would have allowed Minnesota workers to take crucial time off to bond with newly born or adopted children, to care for elderly family members, or to even take time caring for their own serious health issues without incurring detrimental financial ruin.
While the bill passed the DFL-controlled State House, it unfortunately came to a grinding halt when it faced GOP opposition in the State Senate. GOP Majority Leader Paul Gazelka failed to hold a vote for the bill on the Senate floor, citing funding concerns and a blanket refusal to sponsor any kind of state mandate. With Minnesota Republicans having repeatedly blocked similar paid-leave measures during the last three legislative sessions, these stonewalling tactics demonstrate that there is no priority amongst GOP leaders to pass a measure ensuring the financial stability of families facing medical- and family-care crises across the state.
The question now is this: If we couldn’t pass the Family and Medical Leave Act this last legislative session, a session at first defined by bipartisanship and unity, when will it pass? The answer, to be frank, is once DFLers control both the state House and state Senate. Luckily for Minnesotans who don’t want to face the agonizing choice between work and family, DFLers already control the state House; the state Senate is up for election in 2020.
We need to work together over the next year and a half to put folks in office who prioritize Minnesota families, folks who believe that every person deserves the freedom and financial flexibility provided by Paid Family and Medical Leave. No one should have to miss rent in order to afford care for a loved one or to spend critical time with a newborn child.
Ken Martin is chair of the DFL Party.
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