If you have a heart, you certainly want to do something to make it easier for people to take the time they need to care for a newborn baby, a terminally ill parent, a recovering spouse, without fear of losing a job or not being able to pay their bills. That’s what the sponsors of Senate Bill 19-188 are attempting to do.
That said, I figured out within 10 minutes of reading the proposed bill, how a person could potentially scam the system and get a 12-week paid vacation ……..each and every year. The bill, as written, is full of opportunity for fraud.
The bill creates a paid family and medical leave insurance (FAMLI) program, paid for by both employers and their employees. (50/50 in most cases unless you work for the State or a local government like a city. In that case the government pays less.) The insurance program allows you to take 12 weeks off from your job, per year, for your own health reasons or to care for anyone you have a “personal bond” with who might need your help. Your employer cannot deny this leave, must hold your job for you for 12 weeks (or longer in some cases,) and must continue to pay your benefits during your time off. Nothing requires you to return to your employment at the end of the 12 weeks.
You’re not eligible to apply for this insurance benefit until you’ve worked for the employer for 17 weeks (roughly four months) but at that point you can apply for your FAMILI benefits. You will receive 90% of your average weekly wage for the first $1,086 and 50% of everything over that, for a maximum weekly payout of $1,000 per week.
So, if you are a $15/hr. employee, working 40 hours a week, you will have paid $32.64 into the insurance fund for the 17 weeks you worked before becoming eligible. Your weekly pay is normally $600/week. Now you can take 12 weeks off to care for anyone you deem to have a “personal bond” with and you will receive, from the insurance fund, $517/week for 12 weeks. And, guess what? You can actually be working at a second job during that same time period and you are still qualified to get the insurance payments. Yes, the bill specifically says that you can do this.
Or, let’s say you don’t like your job so you find another one, but instead of just giving two weeks’ notice, you notify your employer that you’re going to have to take a 12-week leave. Instead, you start your new job and enjoy that 12-week financial windfall.
Let me be clear that I am not advocating for either of these potentially fraudulent scenarios, just pointing out the vulnerabilities in the proposed program.
I understand the intentions of the lawmakers, and I don’t even think the premiums are out of line, but this bill is not ready to move forward. The scope of coverage is way too broad, and the opportunity for fraud is huge. I urge lawmakers to slow down, bring a diverse group of stakeholders to the table and troubleshoot this bill before moving it forward, even one more inch.
Joni Inman is Executive Director of the Colorado Women’s Alliance.