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Osten backs task force to explore family, medical leave insurance

By Johanna Somers

Publication: theday.com

Published March 12. 2013 11:00AM   Updated March 12. 2013 7:30PM

Hartford — The leaders of the legislature's Labor Committee, state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and state Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, announced their support Tuesday for a House bill that would create a task force to study family and medical leave insurance.

"We are establishing a task force first … so we can have that good, well-thought-out public policy," Osten said.

Speakers at a hearing Tuesday said that Connecticut's Family and Medical Leave Act was the country's first. Former Sen. Chris Dodd then pushed successfully for a federal family leave law.

The act allows a worker to take time off to recover from an illness, take care of a new baby or care for a sick family member. Under Connecticut law, a worker may take up to 16 weeks off, while under federal law, a worker is allowed up to 12 weeks off. Employers are not required to pay the employee for leave time, other than accrued vacation, personal and sick time.

Seventy-eight percent of employees who needed family or medical leave didn't take it because they couldn't afford to take time off without pay, according to a release from the Connecticut Association for Human Services, a Hartford-based organization. Of the workers who took family or medical leave, 9 percent had to go on public assistance, according to the association.

Teresa Younger, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, said she has seen a rise in the number of calls from people who say they qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act and want to know how to apply for wages while on leave. She said she has to tell them they had better save their vacation, sick and personal time because there isn't any funding.

The goal is to create a task force by this summer to examine such issues as how short-term insurance would be funded and what it would cover, Younger said. The task force also would examine the practices of the only two states with this type of insurance, California and New Jersey, she said.

"We believe that this is the right time to establish a task force to study a family medical leave insurance program that could enhance a family's overall financial security picture," she said.

j.somers@theday.com

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