An estimated 100,000 Connecticut employers will begin taking deductions from their employees’ paychecks on Friday for the state’s new paid family and medical leave program that’s scheduled to begin a year from now.
It’s one of a handful of new laws that will take effect in the new year.
Many proponents of paid family medical leave benefits see the new payroll deduction of 0.5% as a key milestone for a program they contend is needed now more than ever. Under the new Connecticut Paid Leave program, qualified employees can begin receiving benefits on Jan. 1, 2022. They include up to 12 weeks of replacement wages for workers who take extended time off for personal illness, or to care for a family member or loved one.
But Republican leaders in the General Assembly continue to question whether the initiative makes financial sense, especially given the large number of coronavirus-related job losses in the state.
“If you look at the maximum contributions and maximum benefit under the law as written, I’m going to put $600 into a bank account and get to take $11,000 out. What household in Connecticut does that work for?” asked Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, the incoming Senate Republican leader. He also noted that there are “historic levels” of unemployment in Connecticut now.
“On paper, the program never added up before and high unemployment and stagnant income growth will only further hurt solvency,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford and incoming House Republican leader, in a statement. Both leaders said they strongly support some kind of paid family medical leave and asked for an independent actuarial analysis to determine whether the current program can deliver the promised benefits.
Josh Geballe, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief operating officer and chairman of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Authority’s board of directors, said Wednesday that an actuary was asked to rerun different scenarios given the pandemic, examining how higher unemployment rates and greater demand for benefits might impact the fund financially.
“All the analysis so far continues to confirm that the solvency of the authority is financially sound, even despite the stresses that were being experienced across the state and the nation (with the pandemic),” he said.
Lamont said if there’s greater demand for the program than expected, the law allows for the benefits to be reduced.
“It’s not going to result in the delinquency of a bond. It’s not going to result in any tax increases,” said Lamont, arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has proven the importance of making it easier for people to stay home from work when they or a loved one is sick.
The program will cover employers with one or more workers and is accessible to all employees who meet certain earned-wage thresholds. People who are self-employed or are sole proprietors will be allowed to opt-in to the program.
Other new laws that will go into effect on Friday include:
— Pharmacists will be required to dispense a one-time 30-day emergency supply of diabetes-related drugs and devices – with a price cap – in a 12-month period for diabetics who have less than a one-week supply of insulin or related equipment.
— Electric utility companies will be required to provide state lawmakers and state regulators with a cost-benefit analysis of how they’ve responded to the last five storms. It must include things like the number of line workers needed from within Connecticut and from out-of-state, estimated damages and service outages, equipment needs and costs, communications policies and other aspects of storm response. The information will be used by regulators to develop minimum staffing levels.
— Police officers across Connecticut will be required to begin receiving regular behavioral health assessments at least every five years. The assessment must be conducted by a board-certified psychiatrist or psychologist experienced in diagnosing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Also, officers authorized to make arrests or required to interact with the public will be required to prominently displayed their badge and name tag on the outer-most layer of their uniform.