Phil Retberg leads his cows back to the pasture after the morning milking at his family's farm on Sept. 17, 2021, in Penobscot. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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McGinley Jones co-owns Lubec Brewing Company in Lubec and is a member of the Maine Small Business Coalition.

I live in Lubec, in Washington County, where my husband and I run a small brewery.

Getting medical care can be hard for everyone. But in more remote areas of Maine, it can be even harder, because many kinds of care (like neonatal intensive care, cancer treatments or cardiology), require a trip to Bangor. On a good day, that’s a trip of between five and six hours, plus parking, and if a patient cannot drive after treatment, they need someone to drive them, or stay overnight.

That’s expensive. One trip to Bangor could mean two people taking the day off, and paying for gas and other costs. If a person needs ongoing treatment, that’s more trips to Bangor, and more money lost.

This is really common. One day my husband was driving a friend to Bangor to see a doctor, and they encountered three different Lubec families in the Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center parking lot. When he went to pick up our friend, they encountered three more families from Lubec.

Rural Mainers are older, poorer, and less likely to have paid (or unpaid) leave from work. That means, as a group, we need more care and are less likely to be able to take time out to get care or provide it for our families.

So people work sick, or right after giving birth. They take care of their dying parents around the edges of their busy days, and they burn out or have to leave their jobs, or even the workforce.

Are we really asking people to choose between making a living and caring for a family member who will suffer if they’re not around? That’s just ruthless. And it’s not who we are.

Most of us — no matter who we are and what we do for a living – believe that we should be able to take time to care for our loved ones when we need to, without risking our jobs, housing, or long-term health. That’s why we need a state-paid family and medical leave (PFML) program.

My husband and I opened Lubec Brewing Company eight years ago. When our first employee had to take time off for a medical issue we realized how much he would struggle without an income, so we decided to create our own version of PFML, because we believe in it. Being a microbusiness, it’s not as generous as we would like to offer, but when people need time off for medical care or to take care of their families, they shouldn’t have to struggle to get by during a medical crisis.

We also don’t want to lose employees, not only because we value them but because replacing them would cost a lot of money: the average is about a fifth of an employee’s salary. We pay for our homemade paid family medical leave out-of-pocket, but with a state PFML program, that money would come from a state fund — like unemployment insurance.  

For small business owners, a state PFML program has another huge advantage: It will cover self-employed people like us.

How often do we hear that a beloved community mom-and-pop business has closed because the owner got cancer or some other illness that requires a long treatment and recovery? With a strong statewide PFML program, those businesses might be able to stay open while their owners get treated — and come back to them when they’re ready.

Statewide PFML will help employees and employers, and keep our communities going strong.

This year, Maine’s Legislature will consider a bill to create a statewide PFML program. If the bill follows the recommendations of the just-released paid family and medical leave commission report, it will create a strong program that truly helps Maine workers.

It is time for our lawmakers to step up. Most Mainers will eventually need to use PFML. We should make sure it’s there for all of us when we need it.