Sarah Clemente snuggles with daughter Penelope Clemente, 6, at their home in Charleston, W.Va., on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Clemente supported a paid family medical leave proposal that was removed from President Joe Biden's social spending plan because of opposition from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. Credit: Jay Reeves / AP

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Emily Ingwersen is a small business owner and was a member of the Maine Commission to Develop a Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits Program.

As the owner of a small construction business, I had the opportunity to represent the small-business community on the Maine Commission to Develop a Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits Program. I know that LD 1964 is a strong paid leave program and one that is good for business.

Maine has worked on the issue of paid leave for many years, but this year is different. As a representative of small-business owners on the paid leave commission, I dedicated two years to this work alongside experienced community members and lawmakers. We took time to research, gather information, get input from the public, and commission an actuarial study so that other Mainers would not have to struggle through experiences like mine and so many others.

As a commission member I heard from states with paid family and medical leave programs and was pleased to hear that the results have been resoundingly positive. Paid family and medical leave could reduce turnover costs, encourage workers to stay with the same employer, and keep women in the workforce longer. Some states cite a 20 percent reduction in the number of women leaving the workforce within one year of welcoming a child and a 50 percent reduction in women leaving their jobs within five years of welcoming a child.  No one reported abuse or misuse of the program.

In addition to this listening and learning, the commission directed a significant actuarial report conducted by a nationally recognized actuary firm. Their work showed us the specific costs and impacts of over a hundred different models of this plan, ensuring that whatever approach we went with had a clear reflection of the costs. We ultimately came to bipartisan, near-unanimous agreement on the elements of the program, the majority of which are represented in LD 1964, the bill to create a paid family and medical leave program for Maine.

In addition to being a commissioner, the issue of paid leave is one that affects me personally and professionally. I needed paid family and medical leave after the births of my two children and later as my father battled stage 4 lung cancer. After my youngest child was born, I had no choice but to return to work immediately. I took her to job sites all day, held her in one arm while typing at my computer in the other and stayed up all-night tending to her needs. I traveled back and forth to Florida to manage my father’s care until he passed away in March 2022. There was no other choice – there was no real access to paid leave for me.

My experiences are not unique. Throughout the years, I have witnessed others in similar situations — carpenters who work through broken bones and other injuries, parents who return to work immediately following the birth of their children and adult children who struggle to manage the care of their elderly loved ones. Many small business owners, like myself, are unable to provide this benefit to ourselves or our employees, given the astronomical cost of private insurance options. We care about our families and our employees who have families of their own. LD 1964 will help solve that problem for Mainers like me.

LD 1964 would help level the playing field between small businesses like mine and large companies who are capable of providing this benefit at scale. The commission heard from small-business owners from around the state, many of whom support a paid family and medical leave program in Maine, and indicated that they have had employees out of work due to these life events. We incorporated these voices into our final report, along with the actuary information to develop a program that is right for Maine. The recommendations are thorough and now it is time for lawmakers to follow through and pass a strong paid leave program.