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Paid leave advocates see Massachusetts program as a potential model for Maine

Trump Paid Family Leave
Steven Senne
In this Thursday, June 1, 2017 photo Elena Tenenbaum kisses her eight-week-old baby Zoe while standing for a photograph at their home in Providence, R.I. Tenenbaum, a clinical psychology researcher, had her second daughter in April of 2017, and has been able to use Rhode Island's paid family leave program, which started in 2014 and covers four weeks of partial pay.

As Maine considers a state-wide paid family leave program, policy advocates say it should look to a neighbor for ideas.

Massachusetts passed a paid family and medical leave program back in 2018.

According to a recent University of Massachusetts Boston study, the state succeeded because it developed a policy that worked for businesses of all sizes.

The study, which came from the university's Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, found that business and labor leaders were able to get a paid family and medical leave program over multiple political hurdles and to the finish line by working together to address concerns from the community.

"We demonstrate that extensive outreach to the small business community, coupled with a steadfast commitment to ensuring that paid leave was available to all employers no matter their size, led to an agreement on a measure that would work for all," said Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson, director for the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy. "Importantly, the negotiated policy process helps to level playing field for small, as well as medium-sized employers in Massachusetts."

State Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, acknowledged that Maine has different economic and business needs compared to Massachusetts. But she said the work Maine is doing now is off to a promising start.

Daughtry is the co-chairman of the Maine Commission to Establish a Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits Program.

"I'm also glad to see the path in Massachusetts to their success is the same path that Maine is on right now: good faith negotiations, respective listening, cooperation and compromise," she said. "It's not the kind of bold action that typically attracts headlines. But's like the work that we're doing now in Maine, and it's crucial."

Elli Lisa, a mother and the founder of Paid Leave for ME, said she found working and caring for a new family extremely challenging.

"We had tons of family, tons of support," she said. "We're financially stable, and I still was struggling every day. And I just got angry, and I said how can people do this and work at the same time?"

Maine's commission is in the middle of developing options for a paid leave program and is exploring how much they would cost. The commission will eventually present recommendations for a Maine program to the legislature.

In her supplemental budget request, Gov. Janet Mills proposed $300,000 to fund an actuarial study on a potential paid leave program.