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March 23rd, 2017

Guest Opinion: Strong Working Families Means a Strong Vermont

By Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas
Orange-2 Bradford, VT

As a state legislator, my first responsibility is to stand up for a Vermont that works for all of us. I’m continually looking at what we can do to strengthen Vermont’s economy for future generations. I’m proud to be a lead sponsor of legislation that would create a family and medical leave insurance program in our state. With tri-partisan support and more than 50 co-sponsors, this proposal is a perfect example of the meaningful improvements we can make right here in Vermont. A statewide leave insurance program would give all working Vermonters the ability to take time to care for a new child or loved one who is seriously ill, or address their own serious medical conditions. This is an incredible support for working families.

But let me be clear: This proposal is a support for small businesses as much as it is for their employees. As a small business owner, I am acutely aware of the challenges of running a Main Street business. I know many owners who make personal sacrifices to ensure that employees and customers are being treated fairly. We do the tough balancing act of giving our customers a quality, affordable product while making sure our employees are being paid well so that they can support their families and other local businesses.

When workers can afford to take leave instead of quitting a job due to the birth of a child or a family health crisis it helps my business to retain a valuable employee. I know that the team at my small café would step up to support a co-worker through this kind of life event and would want to be able to welcome her back to the team. Hiring and training new employees presents huge challenges to businesses. To me, this is common sense proposal. A family and medical leave insurance program is simple step Vermont can take for working families and a healthier Vermont economy.

A statewide family insurance fund will make it possible for many small business owners, like me, to help our employees access the wage replacement that we cannot afford on our own. When we create a Vermont leave insurance program, it will give our small businesses the competitive edge to be able to attract and retain young professionals to live, work, and raise their families here.

Thanks to research done by the Vermont Commission on Women, we know that this program will cost less than one percent of an employee’s wages. This proposed legislation reduces the burden by splitting that contribution equally between the employer and employee. For such a small investment, the returns will be enormous. Vermont’s children, families and local economies will be healthier.

Whether in Washington, D.C. or Vermont, the test for elected officials should be the same: are we helping businesses support their working families?

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