Delaware one signature away from paid family leave for public workers

Delaware lawmakers approved paid family leave for state workers (Zoe Read/WHYY)

Delaware lawmakers approved paid family leave for state workers (Zoe Read/WHYY)

Delaware legislators almost unanimously passed legislation Wednesday that offers 12 weeks paid maternity or paternity leave to full-time state employees, including teachers, after one year of employment.

Under the legislation now ready for Gov. John Carney to sign, sponsored by state Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred, and state Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle, new parents also would be eligible for leave for up to one year after a child’s birth or the adoption of a child younger than 6.

“To know the burden is off them financially, and they still have a job. They get to be home with their child, they’re bonding with their child. Three kids, a lot of sleepless nights, and I know gaining some of that sleep, you’re better mentally prepared, your production is going to be better,” Poore said.

“Some babies can’t even go into day care until they’re 8 weeks old. Here you have mom that can go back to work knowing she’s been home for the last three months, and if the husband is a teacher and he decides to take the next 12 weeks off, look at the benefit—it’s a win-win,” she said.

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 — without mandated paid maternity leave on the federal level.

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

During Wednesday’s debate, some Republicans said they could not support the bill due to its financial cost. In fiscal year 2020 and 2021, the state would spend about $3.9 million to cover the leave. School districts would spend about $1 million in fiscal year 2019, and the state would reimburse them the following year. The funding is already approved in the budget.

Those against the legislation also voiced concern that schools may struggle to get enough substitute teachers if more men and women take paid leave for a longer period than previously.

Delaware Association of School Administrators executive director Tammy Croce testified the legislation might worsen an already problematic substitute teacher shortage.

However, Kristin Dwyer of the Delaware State Education Association argues the substitute teacher shortage is due to pay that falls short compared to other states. She said the members of her organization will benefit greatly from the legislation.

“This benefit would be so incredible. Having a child is one of the most expensive experiences you will go through. We heard stories from women where they had complications during birth. Women have gone through postpartum depression and can’t return to work. This will relieve the pressure of returning to work when they’re not able to do so,” Dwyer said. “Women are having babies now. I think there’s a (false) belief this bill will create a baby boom.”

Poore said the legislation will act as an incentive to encourage teachers to work in Delaware. She also compared it to the $5 million set aside in the next fiscal budget to recruit more correctional officers to the Department of Correction.

“We’re putting a smaller amount toward parental leave rights for families,” Poore said.

Once Gov. Carney signs the measure into law as he has promised, paid leave will be offered in April 2019.

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