Connecticut’s new Paid Medical and Family Leave Program began accepting applications less than 6 months ago. As the Hartford Business Journal writes, this was “a significant milestone in the two and a half year journey by the state to set up a benefit system that will give workers more leeway in navigating demands outside of their working lives.” CEO of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Authority, Andrea Barton Reeves, has been in the trenches of this journey and under her tutelage, tens of thousands of Connecticut businesses have come on board. MotherToday was excited to interview Andrea Barton Reeves for this article.
Question: Hi Ms. Barton Reeves, it’s a pleasure to meet you. We’re excited to hear about your work!
Answer: Well, thank you for the invitation and for your interest in this important conversation. Honestly, welcoming a new child should be one of the most joyous events in your life. But we are seeing that for many moms, the unfortunate reality is that this joy is often overshadowed by worries of how much time they can afford to take off from work to bond with their new child.
While the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for bonding, many women are unable to take advantage of that time since it is unpaid. FMLA can only be offered by employers who have 50 or more employees working within a 75-mile radius. Additionally, only employees who have worked at least 12 months and 1,250 hours for that employer are eligible for this job-protected leave. These requirements exclude a significant portion of the workforce from access to any leave, even unpaid. That’s a big problem, and we are working hard in Connecticut to help provide relief.
Question: Very interesting! How many people are being negatively impacted by the lack of paid family leave?
Answer: According to a study published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, only 16% of private sector workers have access to paid family and medical leave through their employers. That same study found that nearly 1 in 4 women return to work just 10 short days after giving birth. 10 days is drastically shorter than the long-touted six weeks for recovery from a vaginal birth or eight weeks after a cesarean section.
Considering the hormonal changes that are still occurring plus waking up every two hours to feed a newborn, it’s not hard to see why a new mom wouldn’t be able to perform to her full potential at work. Even those moms who can take six or eight weeks off will often tell you that while the medical community may consider their bodies to be physically recovered from the birthing process, they aren’t emotionally ready to return to their jobs.
Paid leave provides a host of health benefits for both mom and baby beyond providing adequate time to recover from the delivery or space to adjust to the emotional challenges and physical exhaustion of being a new parent. A quick Google search for “benefits of paid maternity leave” will uncover a myriad of articles and studies on the topic.
Question: So we are talking about a lot of people struggling. Can you walk us through some of the benefits of paid leave?
Answer: Sure thing. Paid maternity leave has been linked to increased rates and length of breastfeeding, which provides numerous health benefits for the newborn. The increased bonding time afforded by access to paid leave helps support a stronger attachment between the mother and child.
This important foundation could result in fewer behavioral challenges for the child and contribute to future academic success. There is also a correlation between paid leave and lower infant mortality rates, higher rates of vaccination, routine medical care for babies, lower instances of domestic violence and postpartum depression. A 2021 study of mothers in Norway who gave birth before and after the country enacted paid family leave demonstrated that the health benefits for mothers lasted for decades. Mothers who were able to access paid maternity leave maintained a healthier weight, had lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, fewer incidence of diabetes, and fewer mental health concerns. They were also more likely to exercise regularly and less likely to be smokers.
Question: So this sounds like an issue that impacts not just mothers in the United States but around the world, correct?
Answer: Absolutely. But believe it or not, the United States now stands alone as the only industrialized nation in the world without a federal paid leave policy. Efforts to include paid leave in President Biden’s Build Back Better plan were unsuccessful, and states have been taking it upon themselves to enact their own programs.
Question: Please tell us what Connecticut has been doing to address this situation.
Answer: Connecticut was one of the most recent states to implement a paid family and medical leave program. Connecticut Paid Leave (CTPL) has offered paid leave benefits for workers since January of this year. By far, the largest percentage of claims received in Connecticut for paid leave since the program’s inception have been for pregnancy and bonding.
It’s also worth recognizing that nearly half of the bonding claims CTPL has received were filed by men. This indicates a more subtle, but equally important, benefit of access to paid leave – fathers get to bond with their children in those critical first few months of life. Paternity leave leads to fathers being more involved in the children’s lives long-term, sharing the responsibilities of parenting more equally, improved academic performance for the child, and strengthening the relationship with their partner.
Question: We know that paid leave benefits extend beyond just assisting families after birth. Can you tell us more about other forms of bonding leave supported by CTPL?
Answer: Under Connecticut’s paid leave law, a foster or adoptive parent can also access paid leave benefits to bond with a child that has been placed in their home. This leave can be taken at any time during the first 12 months of the child’s placement. Connecticut Paid Leave recognizes that family comes in many different forms and it is equally important for a foster or adoptive parent to be able to take the time they need to bond as it is for a birth parent.
CTPL and other authorities like ours across the country fight hard for paid leave benefits for all because we know how big of an impact it can have on families and future generations. If you are in a state that doesn’t offer paid leave benefits, we encourage you to contact your state lawmakers to discuss changes. We hope that others will see the importance of access to paid leave and join the fight to make these benefits available to everyone.
Question: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us about this important topic.
Answer: Thanks so much for the opportunity to shed light on this important topic.