R.I. bill would expand caregiver insurance program

Katherine Gregg

The bill would allow payments for up to eight weeks instead of just four while participants tend to an ailing family member or new baby, and would add siblings and grandchildren to the list of loved ones who could be cared for under the program.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Advocates are seeking to expand the reach of Rhode Island’s “caregiver insurance program” to workers seeking up to eight weeks of paid time off to care for an ill grandchild or sibling.

In 2013, Rhode Island became the third state in the nation to allow payments to employees taking up to four weeks off from work “to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, or to bond with a new child.”

As with Temporary Disability Insurance, employees — not employers — finance the “caregiver” program. Rhode Island workers pay for both TDI and “Temporary Caregiver Insurance” through a payroll tax. From 2012 through 2017, the payroll tax was 1.2 percent, but it is scheduled to drop to 1.1 percent this year.

At a press conference on Thursday before a House Labor Committee hearing on a proposed expansion of this law, Rep. Christopher Blazejewski said: “Rhode Island’s four-year experience with TCI has been very successful, proving caregiver leave is a cost-effective way to keep people from losing their jobs, jeopardizing their financial security or risking their family’s well-being when they need to take time off to care for a new child or a sick family member.

“It helps employers to retain good employees without extra costs, because it is funded by employees themselves. Expanding it to a length that would cover a minimal maternity leave or recovery from a major surgery would make it a more comprehensive resource that would benefit workers, families and businesses alike,” he said.

If the proposed expansion is passed, those who qualify could get a portion (up to 60 percent) of their salary paid by the TCI program for up to six weeks, starting on Jan. 1, 2019, and up to eight weeks, starting on Jan. 1, 2020.

The program has been popular. Of the 47,075 total TDI claims filed with state Department of Labor & Training in 2017, 23.7 percent — or 11,153 claims — were filed for Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) purposes.

The total amount paid in TDI claims in 2017 was $172.3 million, of which $12 million went out to those deemed eligible for the “caregiver insurance.” The average weekly TDI payment was $491.98, and the average TCI payment, $541.90, according to DLT.

The lead Senate sponsor, Gayle Goldin, sent word she was unable to attend Thursday’s press conference, but said in a news release: “A University of Rhode Island study performed after the first year of Rhode Island’s TCI program found that people who used it had reported better overall physical health, less stress, a greater sense of satisfaction and, in the case of mothers who used it for maternity leave, longer breastfeeding and more baby well checks.”

“TCI has a very positive impact on workers’ lives, helping them balance their families’ needs and their professional goals. The study also found that people need more. Four weeks doesn’t fully cover the needs many people have, and the wage replacement, especially for people whose wages are low in the first place, needs to be greater.”

The coalition supporting the expansion includes the AARP Rhode Island, Aging in Community, American Academy of Pediatrics, Economic Progress Institute, Rhode Island Community Action Association, Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, Rhode Island NOW, Rhode Island Working Families Party, SEIU 1199 NE, Senior Agenda of Rhode Island, and Women’s Fund of Rhode Island.

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