As pandemic restrictions ease and more people return to the workplace, attention turns again to the issue of paid family and medical leave.
The president of Prudential Group Insurance said his company remains committed to helping find a way to provide paid family and medical leave to all U.S. workers.
In September, Jamie Kalamarides described providing paid leave as the biggest opportunity to help workers as the economy comes back from the COVID-19 shutdown. He called for a public-private partnership to provide this leave.
More recently, he told InsuranceNewsNet that the nation “still needs a permanent, comprehensive and bipartisan federal paid family medical leave program.”
The American Rescue Plan Act, passed in March, extends tax credits into September for small businesses that voluntarily want to continue to offer paid leave from last year’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act. But Kalamarides said that although this legislation provides “useful steps, they’re really only a stopgap because this is limited to COVID-related issues.”
“Not everyone has access to paid leave in the United States,” he said. “We're the only developed country in the world that doesn't have paid family leave.”
He said Prudential’s research has shown American workers suffered a great deal of financial stress during the pandemic, with one in five workers falling behind in paying their bills. In addition, one in four women considered leaving the workforce because of childcare issues.
Why is an employee benefits company interested in the issue of paid family leave? “Our mission is to help people who are experiencing financial challenges in our changing world,” Kalamarides said. “And paid family and medical leave is an employee benefit. We really see that there is an unmet need in America and we want to make sure that everyone has access to universal leave.
'There Is Certainly Momentum'
Kalamarides called again for the private sector to leverage its experience and capabilities to create cost efficiencies and improve speed to market. The private sector could assist the public sector by providing expertise in risk pooling, absence management, return-to-work programs and administration.
He said he believes there is sufficient momentum in Washington this year to advance the issue of paid leave. “There is certainly momentum in the House, which is controlled by the Democrats. There is momentum in the Senate as well. And President Biden has indicated his interest in having paid leave.”
Kalamarides said he believes the public-private partnership provides the best chance of family leave legislation becoming reality. “This really fits into a bipartisan solution that would take advantage of the infrastructure and the competitive cost dynamics of the private environment, with a public safety net as well.”
He envisioned a plan that all employers could offer to their workers, and that also would be available to gig workers and sole proprietors. “Small businesses could pool their purchasing power, like in an open multiple employer plan on the retirement side, and businesses or these pools of risk, could choose to decide to use the federal solution or private solutions.”
Kalamarides predicted interest on this issue could pick up steam in Washington by fall as more Americans return to the workplace.
“I believe it is incumbent upon all of us to get employers on board by demonstrating the business value of this in this pandemic, or in any future pandemics. It's really important to make sure that people who are sick don't have to make the choice between going to work and being sick or leaving sick people at home or missing work and taking care of themselves.”
Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @INNsusan.
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