NEWSFLASH: Rhode Island Supports Paid Family Leave

At last, some good news: The Rhode Island House voted 53-18 on Tuesday evening to require paid leave for employees who need to care for a sick child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, grandparent, in-law or to bond with a new child.

The state Senate had already passed the bill, but due to technical changes made last night in the House it will return to the Senate for a final vote. If passed, it will be sent to Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who is expected to approve it.

Spearheaded by State Sen. Gayle Goldin (D), the bill would create a Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) program that expands the state’s Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) program. The proposed bill would allow anyone already paying into TDI (roughly 80 percent of the Rhode Island workforce) to take family leave. In its current form, TDI covers non-work related injury and illness but not maternity or paternity leave.

Projected to begin in January 2014, the new program would allow employees up to four weeks a year of paid family leave in 2014, rising to six weeks in 2015 and eight weeks in 2016. Supporters of TCI note that the program won’t be a financial burden to businesses as it is funded through employee contributions—roughly 64 cents a week for workers who earn $40,060 a year.

Sen. Goldin noted in a blog post for the Workers and Employers Care for Rhode Island coalition that TCI is a critical investment in employees and their families:

Life is filled with unexpected events, and all of us have experienced the push-pull between work responsibilities and someone in our families needing us. [TCI] is a cost-effective way to give employees the time to balance family and work responsibilities without jeopardizing their economic security.

The bill follows examples set by California and New Jersey, the only two other states offering employees paid leave insurance. The U.S. remains one of the three countries (alongside Papua New Guinea and Swaziland) out of 178 that do not offer guaranteed paid maternity or family leave.

While feminists would like to see paid family leave implemented on a national level, this step taken by Rhode Island (and being studied in Connecticut) is creating a more hopeful climate. In a statement about the Rhode Island ruling, Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families noted:

We look forward to Rhode Island’s bill becoming law, and more victories to come. As states continue to take action to help ensure working families have access to the paid leave they need, the case for a national paid leave program will become that much stronger.

Photo from Flickr user Kitt Walker under license from Creative Commons 2.0


Jennifer Simeone is a freelance feminist writer and recent graduate from University of California, Santa Cruz. She is currently based in Los Angeles but moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find out more by following her on Tumblr or Twitter