Panelists framed paid family and medical leave as an essential infrastructure
On Monday, May 17, Lt. Governor Gray hosted her seventh and final “Seat at the Table” of this legislative session on “Caregiving During Covid-19 & Paid Family and Medical Leave.”
Over the last four months, Lt. Governor Gray has welcomed more than 500 Vermonters to the State House virtually as part of a “Seat at the Table” speaker series to amplify the experiences and voices of community, business and non-profit leaders in addressing some of the most critical issues facing the state.
The May 17 “Seat at the Table” comes on the heels of the recently unveiled American Families Plan which proposes a comprehensive paid family and medical leave plan for the United States. Importantly, the plan acknowledges that the pandemic has set back 30 years of progress of women in the workforce and has meant $64 billion in lost wages and economic activity. Additionally, the plan notes that 1 in 4 women in the United States return to work within two weeks of giving birth and 1 in 5 retirees depart the workforce earlier than anticipated to care for an ill family member.
“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,” Lt. Governor Gray 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.”
Panelists included Liz Gamache, former mayor of the City of St. Albans; Hallie Picard, head of human resources at The Alchemist; Jessica Arencibia, licensed massage therapist and owner of Healing Arts Massage; Eric Sorkin, co-founder and owner of Runamok Maple; and Morgan Nichols, state director of Main Street Alliance of Vermont. Lt. Governor Gray moderated the discussion.
Each panelist shared their personal story of providing paid family and medical leave as an employer or requiring leave as a caregiver or parent. All panelists emphasized the need to frame paid family and medical leave not simply as caregiving, but rather as an essential infrastructure necessary for the economic well-being of Vermont families and businesses.
Liz Gamache, the former mayor of the City of St. Albans, shared her personal story of caregiving for her aging parents and in-laws. “Elder care is unpredictable, challenging and costly for seniors, caregivers and employers. We are an aging society and caring for elderly family members will increasingly fall to many mid-life adults who are often caring for children, and sometimes grandchildren, as well while trying to hold down jobs.” Gamache continued on to say, “Women and BIPOC caregivers are faced with disproportionate negative impacts. This is why elder care is a necessary part of the paid family leave policy discussion.”
Jessica Arencibia, of Healing Arts Massage shared, “What happens when life throws us curveballs? What happens when a pandemic changes the whole world? There is no safety net, no job security, no infrastructure in place to protect us.”
Hallie Picard, of The Alchemist, noted, “I feel very fortunate to now have very robust benefits, including a 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.”
For more information visit: ltgov.vermont.gov/seatatthetable.