Making the Case for Paid Family Leave in New Hampshire
by Sandy Belknap
Setting the Stage
Eighteen months ago, as NH Women’s Foundation was coming out of the gate as a newly formed non-profit following the merger of the Women’s Fund of NH and the NH Women’s Initiative, the organization embarked on a journey to focus on a theme of “Family-Friendly Workplaces” in NH. I was fortunate to be a Board Member of the organization during that time and this blog post shares some background and insight about the work that has been done by the NH Women’s Foundation that led up to the Winning Workplaces Summit in September 2016.
The topic of Family-Friendly Workplaces was chosen as a focus after months of discussion among staff, board members, founders, donors, and community partners. The discussions had an immediate goal to determine how the NH Women’s Foundation could best make a relatively quick, yet long lasting impact on a focus area to drive action supporting the organization’s mission to improve the lives of women and girls in NH through research, education, advocacy, and philanthropy. The reality we faced when deciding on a focus area almost two years ago, and continue to see today, is that more than ever, the need for Family-Friendly Workplaces in the Granite State is critical. Even better, it directly supports the NH Women’s Foundation’s overall agenda of advocating for economic security, fostering work and life balance, championing health and wellness, and supporting women and children at risk.
Since committing to the focus of Family-Friendly Workplaces, the NH Women’s Foundation conducted its own state-wide research, released an Issue Brief on the topic, and collaborated with scores of citizens, legislators, business leaders, and non-profit organizations across New Hampshire – all in an effort to learn what is truly needed in the state from the people who are impacted by the broad spectrum of what constitutes a ‘Family-Friendly Workplace.’
While a desire for flexible work environments resonated strongly across the NH Women’s Foundation’s outreach efforts, the topic that continually rose to the top of 1:1 and roundtable discussions was the need for Paid Family and Medical Leave. This need became even more clear to the organization during its collaborative education and advocacy work across NH and nationally with paid paternal leave advocate and author, Josh Levs and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO of MomsRising.org. There’s no doubt that Paid Family and Medical Leave has economic, as well as health and safety benefits not just for women and children, but for NH families and communities as a whole.
Like so many things, timing is everything. In late 2015, the NH Women’s Foundation, along with the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH and NH Employment Security received a grant from the US Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau to conduct research specifically on how Paid Family & Medical Leave Insurance could be implemented in the Granite State. The grant also required the creation of an event to share results.
Fast forward to September 21, 2016!
The Winning Workplaces: Paid Family & Medical Leave Insurance Summit took place in Manchester, NH. It was truly a collaborative effort among the NH Women’s Foundation, the Carsey School of Public Policy, NH Employment Security, the NH Legislative Taskforce on Work & Family, MomsRising.org, and the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy. In addition to the grant provided by the US Dept. of Labor’s Women’s Bureau, support for the summit was provided by a grant from the Norwin S. and Elizabeth Bean Foundation and media sponsorship from NH Business Review.
The summit was kicked-off by the Interim CEO of the NH Women’s Foundation, Cotton Cleveland. She quickly gave the stage to NH State Representative Mary Gile who has spent most of her 20 years at our State House advocating for Paid Family and Medical Leave for NH workers. Representative Gile talked about her journey and personal focus on this legislation, and there was a powerful, yet hopeful tone in her voice that convinced the summit attendees that we’re closing in on finally making Paid Family and Medical Leave available in the Granite State after nearly two decades of kicking the can down the road.
The most compelling aspect of the summit was the opportunity to hear about the brand new research on the topic delivered by Dr. Kristin Smith, a family demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy and research associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. Throughout the summit, Dr. Smith provided the details highlighted in two National Issue Briefs that Carsey created with the US Dept. of Labor grant monies awarded months earlier. For me, the big take-aways from Dr. Smith’s presentations were:
- 82% of NH research respondents support Paid Family & Medical Leave Insurance (this breaks down to 9 in 10 women and 3 in 4 men.)
- 69% of research respondents said they would be willing to pay $5 per week into an insurance program.
- In NH women are more likely than men to not have access to paid family and medical leave BUT they are more likely to take unpaid leave to care for their families.
- Support for Paid Family & Medical Leave Insurance in NH is bipartisan!
Dr. Smith’s full presentations and National Issue Briefs are available online and are listed in the “Additional Resources” at the end of this blog post.
With some much data to absorb, it was a nice break in the program to have several NH business leaders join Michelle Veasey, Executive Director of NH Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR) to share their challenges and experiences in accommodating their employees’ needs. (Side Note – Over the past eight months, the NH Women’s Foundation has co-hosted a series of discussions with NHBSR’s members about Family-Friendly Workplaces in the Granite State. The next one is in Portsmouth at Medtronic on November 15th.)
During Veasey’s panel, we heard anecdotal stories from Katie Schwerin of W.S. Badger, Mike L’Ecuyer of Bellweather Community Credit Union, Eliana McCarthy of Wirebelt Co. of America, and Jeff Baker of Image 4. All are business leaders who value their employees and their work/life balance. Jeff Baker stood out to me with his very simple comment, “Life happens……it’s important to treat employees like adults” and be open to have discussions with them to succeed in changing definitions and thoughts when it comes to things like flexible work environments paid medical leave.
More stories during the summit were delivered by Joe Keefe, CEO of Pax World Funds of Portsmouth, who gave a rousing keynote over lunch. Joe and Pax World have a strong record of focusing on Family-Friendly policies not only in how they manage sustainable investing for their clients but also in how they take care of their employees and their families.
Pax World offers 12 weeks of paid parental leave to all of its employees and Joe enthusiastically shared that this policy provides huge benefit to the company because it results in “enormously loyal, productive, and motivated” employees. He also shared a data point that I found to be quite interesting: Since the paid parental leave benefit has been offered, they’ve had 17 men and 5 women use the benefit, one of which is a male department leader who has used the benefit four times. The nice thing about their paid parental leave policy is that it can be used as needed during the first year after the arrival of the child – this gives the employees flexibility with how to use their time to be able to better take care of their families.
Success Stories about Paid Family & Medical leave are compelling – but so are the stories of NH workers who lack such benefits. Perhaps heart-breaking is a better description than compelling for those who lack of benefits. We heard such stories at the summit via a panel designed by Christina D’Allesandro of MomsRising.org and Amanda Sears of the Campaign for a Family-Friendly Economy. Matt Mowry, editor of Business NH Magazine moderated the discussion.
Bottom line is that when NH workers have to choose between staying home to take care of their sick family members vs. going to work to ensure a paycheck to get food on the table or pay an electric bill in the middle of winter, it seems like a lose/lose situation for all involved. And indeed, many times it is. You can read such stories in a new document from Momsrising.org: “NH Speaks Out on the Need for Paid Family & Medical Leave Insurance.”
Finally, but perhaps more importantly, the summit included focus on the success of other states that have already implemented Paid Family & Medical Leave programs. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island are the only states that current have Paid Family & Medical Leave legislation in place. Massachusetts and New York have legislation pending. That puts the Granite State in a solid position to be an early adopter for such a program, but not so early that we can’t learn from the implementation of other states. You can learn more about how states across the county are ranked for paid family leave legislation in a story from Forbes earlier in 2016.
At the summit, we heard from Gayle Goldin, a Rhode Island State Senator who championed the passage of Paid Family & Medical Leave during her first year in office. Joining Senator Goldin on stage was Dr. Randy Albelda, a professor of economics at UMass Boston. Dr. Albeda co-created a paid family and medical leave simulator that has been used in economic reports that are advocating for legislation in Massachusetts. Hearing their experiences and insights will be of great benefit as NH lawmakers, together with business leaders and NH workers, move forward to ensure that NH is at the top of the list vs. bottom when it comes to taking care of its citizens.
In my opinion, Dr. Albelda provided the most pressing case at the summit for paid family leave in the US – simply that it “brings us into the 20th Century — yes—– the 20th Century,” she emphasized. Coupled with that, RI State Senator Goldin provided information on a documentary film called “Zero Weeks”. It’s about how the US lags so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to Paid Family & Medical Leave. Here’s a striking fact: “Out of 178 nations, there are only two countries that do not offer paid maternity leave benefits – the United States of America and Papa New Guinea.” This makes our country the ONLY DEVELOPED country on the globe without paid maternity leave – or paid leave for fathers, which is offered by 50 nations. You can learn more about this documentary project at http://zeroweeks.com. In the end, while I’ve personally been onboard for the need from more focus on Paid Family Leave, especially after traveling across the Granite State with Josh Levs in September 2015, I left the summit on September 21 with a renewed sense of urgency. The time is now. As we close in on the end of the first decade of the 21st Century it makes sense from both an economic and humanitarian perspective to make Paid Family & Medical Leave Insurance in the Granite State a new and much needed reality.
Sandy Belknap is a marketing and communications strategist and lives in Nashua, NH. She served for six years on the Board of the NH Women’s Foundation initially starting her service with the Women’s Foundation of NH.
Additional Resources – Winning Workplaces Summit
NH Women’s Foundation: Family-Friendly Workplaces – 2016 Issue Brief
Carsey School of Public Policy – Summit Presentations by Dr. Kristen Smith
Carsey School of Public Policy Research – National Issue Brief #103:
Over 80 Percent of New Hampshire Residents Support Paid Family Leave Insurance
Carsey School of Public Policy Research – National Issue Brief #105:
Paid Family & Medical Leave in New Hampshire
MomsRising.org – New Hampshire Speaks Out on the Need for Paid Family & Medical Leave
Concord Monitor: 82 Percent of NH Residents Support Paid Family & Medical Leave
NHPR: Democratic Lawmakers Push Paid Family Leave in NH
Union Leader: NH Supporters Again Pushing for Family Leave Bill