Delaware governor announces support for paid family leave

Gov. Carney and state legislators show support for paid maternity leave.

Gov. Carney and state legislators show support for paid maternity leave. (WHYY/Zoe Read)

Delaware teacher Lori Sabastian and her husband Colin had to make some serious decisions about how they would support themselves and their newborn child Cora.

Not given maternity leave, Sabastian went back to work nine weeks after the birth, and her husband decided to quit his job to become a stay-at-home dad, because his paycheck would not support anything other than daycare.

“From the beginning of my 17-year teacher career I’ve always been told I should save my sick time for when I really need it. But at 21, what did I really know and what did that mean to me? Later, I found out being home with a newborn baby exhausts any last bit of any sick time you’ve saved up and then some,” Sabastian said.

“My family and I cannot afford for my paycheck not to come—bills need to get paid, food needs to be on the table and we need to take care of our child and ourselves comfortably.”

The couple thought they may not be able to afford a second a child. But that future is now possible if a paid family leave bill passes in the general assembly.

During the first day of Delaware’s legislative session, Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, and state legislators announced a bill Tuesday that would offer 12 weeks paid maternity or paternity leave to full-time state employees, including teachers, after one year of employment.

More than 100 countries offer at least 14 weeks of paid family or parental leave. But as of 2016, the U.S. was one of only a few countries, and the only industrialized nation, to not mandate paid maternity leave.

Some major companies, such as Bank of America, DuPont and AstraZeneca, offer paid parental or family leave to their workers, however.

“In some ways the state of Delaware is behind the curve,” Carney said surrounded by legislators, parents and young children.

“We here in the United States are certainly behind the curve with respect to other countries around the world in supporting women and families when they give birth to their children and making sure those children and making sure their families and moms get off to a healthy and good start. But to see these babies, and their moms and dads, and to understand the step we’re taking today or hope to take, that’s what this is about.”

Originally introduced in April, the new legislation would make Delaware the sixth state to offer paid leave for state workers. Starting this year, eligible government and private sector workers in New York also are eligible for eight weeks of partially paid leave.

Under the Delaware legislation, new parents also would be eligible for leave for up to one year after the child’s birth or the adoption of a child under age 6.

“Research shows paid leave is an essential support system that not only helps quality of life for parents but leads to healthier babies,” said the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred.

“I firmly believe the earliest early childhood education is when children are babies and their first teachers are parents. Our dedicated hardworking state workers deserve to have the time, experience those firsts with a new child, without the anxiety of leaving their child too soon. The decision to return to work after welcoming a new child shouldn’t be rooted in fear of lost wages or failing to make ends meet. With this legislation state workers would not have to choose between a career and their families.”

If the bill passes, it would require an estimated $1.2 million for the next fiscal year, and more than $2.4 million for fiscal year 2021. Carney said he believes the positive impact of the bill is worth the investment.

“I know how important it is to help a mother or father, or just a mother, or whoever those parents might be, to resolve those issues when their child comes into the world around how they’re going to keep their job, how they’re going to make it work around the house, how they’re going to support that little baby, and we know if we provide this support of paid leave for families, for those mothers and those fathers, those babies will be healthier, those families will be stronger and we will be better off as a state,” he said.

Carney also discussed Delaware’s fiscal health following the press conference. Last year the state faced a $400 million dollar deficit.

Carney said he wants to ensure the state won’t budget into one-time revenues. He said he plans to discuss his budget proposal in a couple weeks.

“While we didn’t get everything of our plan approved, we’re in a much better position this year than we were last year,” Carney said. “We’re in much better shape than we were, but we’re not out of the woods in terms of long-term stability.”

In December, the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council found the state will have about $24 million more to spend next fiscal year. However, that money is only one-time funding, Carney said.

“If you take our operating budget and project it out with reasonable growth numbers you’ll find next year we’ll be in a deficit year,” he said. “It does mean you have to be careful in the decisions you make.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.