My name is Jenn Steinfeld and I am the Executive Director of the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island. The Women's Fund works every day to end gender bias and inequality in our state. We advocate for policy changes that create an equitable Rhode Island and promote women’s economic security. A critical aspect of leveling the playing field for women in the workforce is increased access to paid leave. In 2013, the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island and our Women’s Policy Institute fellows were instrumental in the passage of Rhode Island’s landmark Temporary Caregivers Insurance (TCI) program, with the support of HB5341 lead sponsor Representative Shekarchi, and many members of the committee. TCI provides up to four weeks per year at partial pay to workers welcoming a new child or caring for a seriously ill family member. This legislation was carefully crafted to protect both workers and employers, setting strict criteria for eligible familial relationships and medical need for caregiving, with all requests evaluated by the Department of Labor and Training. It has been a great boon to Rhode Island’s working families, enabling them to better balance family responsibilities and work.
HB5341 seems very straightforward: it would allow employees who have private disability insurance through their employers to opt out of the state TDI system. The Women’s Fund of Rhode Island has concerns with the unintended consequences to this legislation which lead us to strongly oppose it. What you may not realize is that in order to be eligible for the TCI leave, workers must pay into the TDI program. There is no private product that provides paid caregiver leave. By exempting workers who are covered by private disability insurance from TDI, you would unintentionally render them ineligible for paid caregiver leave as well. In its first year of operation, TCI has benefitted over 4,000 families, in every House and Senate district in our state. While the vast majority of leave is used for families welcoming a new child through birth, adoption, or foster parenting, 1/3 of users are caring for other family members. At the same time, more than 99% of employers had no employees use the program. Of the remaining 1% of employers who had employees access the program, 69% had only one employee take caregiver leave. TCI is funded entirely by an employee tax, costing businesses nothing to offer. Two studies of the program are currently underway, but the preliminary findings seem to indicate that the salary replacement that TCI provides is life-changing for families, while having negligible impact on employers. Many employees report that had TCI not been available, they would have workforce altogether, something much more cost burdensome to businesses and to our community.
Both TCI and TDI also provide job protections, ensuring that employees who take leave will be able to return to a “comparable position, with the equivalent seniority, status, employment benefits, pay and other terms and conditions including fringe benefits”. This bill does not specify that employees using a private insurance program would have access to the same expectation of job protection upon return. We are concerned about the unintentional effect these two issues might have upon Rhode Island’s workforce, and upon women and families. We believe employees may choose to opt out of TDI without recognizing that they are also giving up caregiver leave and any job protections. We strongly feel that broadbased participation in the TDI system is the most equitable way to enable our workforce to meet their needs as workers and family members.
We urge you reconsider this proposal, and to recognize the importance of the TDI system in our state’s economic competitiveness. Please vote in opposition to HB 5341.
Women’s Fund of Rhode Island