State Lawmaker Questions Wisdom,

Posted on 07-27-2022

Benefits of Paid Family Leave

Nearly nineteen hundred state and school district employees took advantage of the state’s paid family leave benefit during Fiscal Year 2021 (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021), leading one state lawmaker to question its net impact.

According to a report issued by the Delaware Department of Human Resources last week, 1,897 combined workers took paid family leave during FY 2021. 

Under a state law enacted in mid-2018, any full-time worker employed by the state for at least one year is entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave upon the birth of a child or the adoption of a child 6 years of age or younger. The leave can be taken at any time within a year of the birth or adoption.

During the period covered by the report, a total of 1,192 women and 705 men utilized the benefit. Out of the total 1,897 employees, 616 were in the executive branch, 97 were non-executive branch, and 1,184 were school district workers. “With approximately 25,000 state employees in executive branch agencies, and non-executive branches, including the judiciary and legislative branches, school districts, and charter schools, about 7.5% of all state employees utilized the paid parental leave benefit,” the report stated.

Most of the combined executive branch and non-executive branch employees using family leave in FY 2021 were male. Of the 713 employees in this category, 57.2% were men. By contrast, of the 1,184 school district employees taking family leave, nearly three-quarters (74.9%) were female.

The report touted the perceived benefits of the entitlement: “Research shows that newborns whose mothers take leave for at least 12 weeks are more likely to be breastfed, receive medical check-ups, and get critical immunizations. Additionally, paid parental leave is associated with lower rates of mortality for infants and young children. Women with access to paid parental leave have an increased likelihood of returning to the labor market after giving birth, compared to women without paid leave and when fathers take paid parental leave, it is easier for mothers to return to the workforce and increase their earnings. Furthermore, involved fathers promote children’s educational attainment and emotional stability, including fewer behavioral issues.”

State Rep. Rich Collins (R-Millsboro) offers a different perspective. “At the very time that our state is experiencing a critical shortage of teachers, the General Assembly passed a law resulting in the loss of nearly 1,900 state employees including more than 1,200 teachers and school personnel,” he said. 

According to the report, non-education employees that took paid family leave in FY 2021 used nearly the full benefit, with men averaging 11.5 weeks and women 12 weeks. The duration of leave for school district and charter school workers was not disclosed.

“Assuming teachers use family leave like other state workers, every time an educator uses the benefit he or she is absent from the classroom for approximately 360 instructional hours — more than a third of the annual instructional requirement of 1,060 hours,” Rep. Collins said. “And since they can take the leave for up to one year after a birth or adoption, they can use the benefit during the school year even when they brought their new child home over the summer.”

During FY 2021, there were five school districts that had 100 or more employees out on paid family leave: Appoquinimink (100), Indian River (104), Colonial (106), Christina (138), and Red Clay (159).

The shortage of substitute teachers, and the additional need for them created by the paid family leave benefit, forced lawmakers to take action earlier this year. On July 1, the General Assembly sent to the governor a bill (House Bill 315) to provide state funding assistance for public schools to hire full-time permanent substitute teachers. The measure, which has not yet been signed, is expected to carry a cost of $11.7 million to the state and $3.2 million to local districts in its first year.

“Paid family leave is a benefit with some very significant downsides,” Rep. Collins said. “As far are our schools are concerned, I fear it will only further handicap students that were already operating at a disadvantage thanks to nearly two years of enforced remote learning. Even before the pandemic, the performance of our schools was subpar, and it is even less likely to improve now that we are providing a financial incentive for teachers to stay out of the classroom.”

According to the Delaware Department of Education, during the 2020-21 academic year less than 27% of students were proficient in math and 42.2% were proficient in English Language Arts.

Paid family leave will soon make its way to the private sector. In May, the governor signed Senate Substitute 2 for Senate Bill 1 (a.k.a. the Healthy Delaware Families Act) that will establish a trust fund to pay for the benefit financed with payroll taxes split evenly between workers and employers. 

Starting in 2026, private sector employees will be able to take up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave per year for the birth, adoption, or placement through foster care of a child. Workers will be entitled to receive 80% of their normal wages, up to a maximum of $900 per week. This benefit will be indexed to inflation beginning in 2027.