Stacy Stableford took several months off from teaching high school Spanish in 2011 to care for her 84-year-old father, who was dying from heart failure.
Because it was her first year at a new school, she had only three weeks of sick leave, so she took the rest of the time off without pay.
“There was no way I could let my mother be alone with my dad. He had both dementia and physical difficulties,” Stableford, 65, of Trumbull, says. “I knew I had to be there.”
To make ends meet on her husband’s pension, the couple covered bills using credit cards. When she returned to work after her father’s funeral, she was $30,000 in debt.
“It was the most horrendous time for me financially, but it was also the most horrendous time in my heart, because I was losing my dad,” she says.
Because of her experience, Stableford, an AARP volunteer, pressed hard for Connecticut’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, which Gov. Ned Lamont (D) signed in June 2019. The program will pay its first benefits on Jan. 1.
Workers who meet thresholds for income and time worked can receive up to $780 a week ($900 when the state minimum wage rises to $15 an hour, on June 1, 2023) for up to 12 weeks a year to welcome a new child, recover from a serious illness or care for a sick family member.
Leave can be taken in blocks, as a reduced work schedule or periodically for necessities like doctor’s appointments.
The program is funded by a 0.5 percent payroll tax that employers began withholding from paychecks in January for private-sector employees and nonunion government workers.
Insurance company Aflac will administer the program for the quasi-public Connecticut Paid Leave Authority.
Help for the Sandwich Generation
Advocates say that the law will especially benefit older workers, who are more likely to have health issues themselves and also may be caring for children and elderly parents.
In Connecticut, about 460,000 unpaid family caregivers provide nearly $6 billion worth of care to loved ones each year, says Anna Doroghazi, AARP Connecticut’s advocacy director.
Nationwide, 1 in 5 adults provide care to a loved one, at an estimated value of $470 billion. Yet only about 40 percent of those who also work have access to paid family medical leave, according to AARP research.
“If you’re looking at working family caregivers, the majority are employed full-time,” Doroghazi says. “They really need more flexibility in the workplace.”
Janée Woods Weber, executive director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, which led the push for the law and is now helping educate the public about its benefits, says it is one of the strongest in the nation and a model for the rest of the country.
“It is critical that workers across the state know their rights and are aware of this benefit, so they can take the leave they not only need and deserve but also have already paid into,” she says.
The state’s largest business lobby, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, opposed the bill, calling it government overreach and arguing it would be burdensome for smaller companies to replace workers on leave.
But Doroghazi notes that some small-business owners backed the law because it would help them recruit and keep workers.
She says the new law can benefit employers, since people with paid leave are less likely to quit or come to work sick.
To learn more or to apply for benefits, visit CTPaidLeave.org. If you’re a Connecticut caregiver, go to https://states.aarp.org/connecticut/supporting-family-caregivers-in-connecticut.