MONTPELIER – Vermont Lt. Gov. Molly Gray joined local business owners, caregivers and other advocates to discuss paid family and medical leave in Vermont, saying the pandemic has set back 30 years of progress for women in the workforce.
President Joe Biden recently unveiled the American Families Plan, which proposes big investments toward paid family and medical leave, while also expanding nutrition assistance, maternal health and affordable childcare.
“A stronger and more equitable recovery for the nation, and specifically for our aging state, with a persistent demographic crisis, must include a comprehensive paid family and medical leave strategy,” Gray said. “We need Congress to act with urgency on the American Families Plan.”
Vermont’s an older and aging population has meant a growing need for affordable elder care as well. Liz Gamache, the former mayor of St. Albans, said if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that everyone is getting older.
“I have found navigating systems and supports for elder care to be the most challenging, time consuming, frustrating and confusing set of issues I have ever had to face,” she said.
Still, many believe the challenges of eldercare are rarely discussed as much as they should be, and in one of the oldest states in the nation, that could eventually have a broader affect on Vermont’s workforce.
“Caring for elderly family members will increasingly fall to mid-life adults who are also caring for children, and sometimes grandchildren, while often struggling to stay in the workforce,” Gamache said. “To stay in the workforce, caretakers have to rearrange work schedules, cut back on hours and pay, and take leaves of absence.”
Meanwhile, Gray said the pandemic has set back 30 years of progress for women in the workforce, leading to $64 billion in lost wages and economic activity. She pointed out that on average, 1 in 4 women in the United States return to work within two weeks of giving birth.
“Vermont is not immune from the troubling national statistics on the impact of COVID-19 on women, families, and caregivers. Today’s panelists made that clear as have the countless caregiving stories of Vermonters from the last year,”she said. “A stronger and more equitable recovery for the nation, and specifically for our aging state, with a persistent demographic crisis, must include a comprehensive paid family and medical leave strategy. We need Congress to act with urgency on the American Families Plan.”
Jessica Arencibia had left her job to start her own business in March 2020, and although those hopes endured the hardships of the pandemic, she said it was a time when millions suddenly faced major uncertainty.
“What happens when life throws us curveballs? What happens when a pandemic impacts our entire world? There’s no safety net, there’s no job security, there’s no infrastructure in place to protect us.”
Hallie Picard of The Alchemist noted, “I feel very fortunate to now have a very robust benefits, including paid leave package through my employer and I know that not every small business can afford to offer these types of benefits. State and/or federal support is needed to close the gap and make it more feasible for Vermont’s small businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, to survive and their employees and families to thrive.”
Morgan Nichols of Main Street Alliance of Vermont said, “Nobody chooses when they get sick or injured. We need to ensure that all workers, in every job, have the ability to put their health and safety first and our coalition is doing all that we can to lift up Vermont’s voice to make Paid Family and Medical Leave a reality for all.”
A recording of the event is available to view on YouTube.
Monday’s roundtable discussion was Gray’s seventh and final “Seat at the Table” of the legislative session.