OP-ED | Paid Vacation: An Essential Tool to Close Connecticut’s Wealth Gap


ANDREA BARTON REEVES

This election year, politicians and experts will have opinions and proposals to help workers and families in Connecticut as they face persistent economic challenges. In these trying times, it’s important to remember that some communities in Connecticut have even greater obstacles to making ends meet.

A recent analysis conducted by financial website WalletHub found that Connecticut ranked fifth in the wealth gap, with Hispanic and Black households struggling the most due to factors such as unequal access to money. higher education and employment opportunities for minorities. In 2020, United Ways of Connecticut released its 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 matters worse. Fortunately, there is hope for workers in Connecticut thanks to 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 time off, provides a source of income replacement for eligible employees who cannot work for eligible health or family reasons. Although federal and state family and medical leave laws provide job protection during qualifying leaves, none provide income replacement.

Some private employers may choose to offer paid time off, and others may require workers to use accrued time off, such as sick leave 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 illness or injury? While a worker may be able to return to their job after taking time off 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. give up their salary. Connecticut law gives workers the assurance that they are taking the time they need to take care of their own or their family’s health care needs and not have to worry about paying bills or putting on the food on the table.

There are several valid reasons for requesting paid leave. Medical leave is leave taken by a worker to receive treatment or recover from their own serious medical 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 to a family member who is suffering from a serious medical condition.

Connecticut law also expands the definition of family members to include extended family as well as people who have a significant personal connection that resembles a familial relationship, such as an employee’s unmarried significant other. Liaison leave is taken by a worker not only for the time physically spent with a newborn or newly placed child, but also for the time required for the process of adoption or foster care. This leave is available to mothers and fathers and can be taken at any time during the 12 months following the birth or placement.

Domestic violence leave is available to workers who are victims of domestic violence to seek medical or psychological care, obtain services, relocate, or participate in civil or criminal proceedings.

Finally, individuals who are caring for a family member who is a member of the military and who suffered a serious injury or illness that occurred while on federal active duty are also eligible for benefits, and The qualifying requirement 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-work.

In short, Connecticut’s program is strong in providing much-needed financial assistance to workers in need. The ALICE report stated that “the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis have disproportionately affected households living below the ALICE threshold and have highlighted ALICE’s vulnerability to hardship. due to both illness and economic disruption.”

For the 52% of hourly-paid workers — retailers, orderlies, childcare workers, home health aides, restaurant workers and auto mechanics — all it takes is one emergency to trigger a financial crisis. Now new parents, the injured and sick, and caregivers can rest easier knowing they can benefit from income security when they are most vulnerable.

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