Why Maine's Historic Social Safety Net Investment Is Good For Families
On July 11, 2023, Maine became the 13th state and the second this year to put a paid family leave program on its budget.
On July 11, 2023, Maine became the 13th state and the second this year to put forward a paid family leave program on the state budget.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, signed a new paid family and medical leave law earlier this week that will guarantee workers in the state the right to paid family and medical leave when they’re unable to work due to caregiving needs or serious health needs.
“This historic budget delivers on my guiding belief that the way to build a stronger, more prosperous state is to invest in the infrastructure that Maine people need to succeed,” Gov. Mills said in a media brief.
With the new budget, the state also made historic investments in child care, that will make child care more affordable for families — and better paying for providers.
“From establishing a paid family and medical leave program to strengthening education, housing, child care, our workforce, and delivering tax relief for seniors, this budget makes transformative investments in Maine people,” Gov. Mills said.
The state’s investments in the two major social safety net programs come at a time when the federal government’s plans to pass a paid family leave plan have stalled out for years. There is currently no federal paid leave program in the United States.
Child care, too, is expensive, unaffordable, and inaccessible for many families, whether it’s center-based care or even hiring a babysitter.
The programs will give families in the state more support from birth to kindergarten — and for other life situations they may not be able to afford but will inevitably have to deal with, anyway, like illness, birth, or caring for another.
What’s in Maine’s paid family and medical leave program?
The new law guarantees workers in Maine the right to paid medical and family leave when they’re unable to work due to caregiving needs or serious health needs. The plan will begin in 2026 and be funded by a payroll tax, split between employees and employers.
Public and private companies with 15 or more employees will be required to ensure full- and part-time employees have access to paid leave for qualifying situations, which includes, per the Center for American Progress:
- To care for the employee's serious health condition or care for a family member with a serious health condition
- To bond with an employee’s child during the first 12 months after birth, adoption, or foster care placement
- To take time following an organ donation
- Safe leave, which is also known as sexual assault victim leave
- To deal with the impact of a loved one’s military deployment
To be eligible for paid leave, employees need to have “earned at least $6,216 in the year prior to taking leave” to receive up to 12 weeks of family leave and up to 12 weeks of medical leave per year. However, employees can’t take medical and family leave within the same year.
The law also protects the employee’s job position during their leave, the Society for Human Resource Management explains. For employees who have been employed “for at least 120 days prior to taking leave, the employer must restore that employee to the same or equivalent position with the same or equivalent benefits, pay, and other conditions of employment.” Employees who take leave before at least working 120 days aren’t guaranteed the same job restoration rights.
When on leave, workers will receive “90% of the portion of their weekly wages that is less than or equal to 50% of the state average weekly wage,” the Center for American Progress explains. In addition, workers will receive “66% of the portion of their weekly wages that is more than 50% of the state average weekly wage.”
What’s included in Maine’s historic child care investments?
In addition to the paid family and medical leave, Gov. Mills introduced historic child care investments aimed to build on the state’s existing system and increase support for families, children, and the workforce.
The state has introduced three main investments, including a tax credit, changes to the child care affordability program, and a new stipend, per Maine.gov:
- Changes to the Maine Depended Exemption tax credit: The changes make the Dependent Exemption Tax Credit refundable for tax years starting on or before January 1, 2024, and indexes the $300 credit to inflation — meaning it will keep pace with inflation — beginning January 1, 2025.
- Increases eligibility to affordability program for child care: Currently, to be eligible for the child care affordability program is this a proper noun? should it be capitalized? — which helps families with lower incomes pay for child care — a family’s income needs to be below 85% of the average income in the state. The new change will allow families with up to 125% of the average income to qualify for the program. This change will take effect in January 2024.
- Increase to the Child Care Worker Stipend: Currently, qualified child care professionals receive a stipend of $200 to help them afford to continue to retain staff and remain in the industry, but the new changes double the monthly stipend to $400.
Maine isn’t the only state that’s picked up the federal government’s slack when it comes to making historic investments in families and children. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York Washington State, and Washington D.C. also have paid family and medical leave programs, among a handful of other states.
For more details on the recent changes in Maine, visit Maine.gov.