Over the objection of its leader, a panel of state senators on Thursday endorsed a proposal to allow nearly all workers in New Mexico to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year and still receive part of their income.
The Senate Finance Committee voted 6-5 to pass Senate Bill 11, which would allow someone to take paid time off when they are raising a newborn child, dealing with a long-term illness, trying to avoid a stalker or domestic abuser, or facing other circumstances that make it impossible to work.
Democrats on the committee were split over part of the proposed Paid Family and Medical Leave Act which would create a new pot of money to pay for workers’ time off.
The money would come from contributions by employers and workers. For every $1,000 in wages a New Mexican worker earns, they would pay $5 into the fund to cover leave.
For example, a worker making the state minimum wage would pay $119.60 per year, and their boss would pay $95.16 per year.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. George Muñoz (D-Gallup) joined Republicans in opposition because he believes the fund would run out of money or become “insolvent.”
He pointed to the Fiscal Impact Report, an analysis produced by legislative staff, that says the sponsors’ estimates of how many people would file claims for leave, and how many businesses would opt out of the program, “may have been too low.”
“We need to fix that in some way, shape or form,” Muñoz said in explaining his vote against the bill.
“The FIR is wrong,” Senate President Pro Tempore Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) immediately replied. “It used the wrong study, it used an inaccurate study.”
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Legislative Finance Committee analyst Eric Chenier estimated 10% of the 871,000 eligible workers would file claims, a proportion called a “take up rate.”
“It’s completely plausible that a 10% take up rate could happen,” Chenier told the committee.
However, Suzan Reagan, senior program manager of the Data Bank at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico, estimates only 4% of eligible workers would file claims.
“I feel that is a valid number, and a reasonable number,” Reagan told the committee.
Based on Reagan’s estimates, payments into the fund would total more than $463 million in the first year, and increase to more than $514 million by 2028. That annual income would total more than the payouts.
Chenier estimates the fund would pay out so much that it would run out of money and go negative by 2027.
The disconnect appears to be caused by the different methods used by Chenier and Reagan to determine how many people would actually apply for the money.
Chenier’s analysis is based on a 2018 survey commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor that looks at a sample of 2,153 businesses across the country.
Reagan’s analysis, on the other hand, is based in part on UNM population estimates and short-term disability claim data from the Risk Management Division of the New Mexico General Services Department.
“It’s better to come up from New Mexico-based data, as opposed to taking a national survey, and adding that percentage down,” Reagan said.
Reagan said she had difficulty with the way Chenier used the survey in his analysis to say everyone who has a family medical leave issue arise in their life is actually going to make a claim.
“I think it speaks to the need for labor to have coverage for (family and medical leave),” Reagan said, “I don’t think it actually is a true claims number.”
That’s because, Reagan said, there is no government program that actually meets 100% of the demand, perhaps because people don’t understand the program, don’t apply, or don’t qualify.
How the bill works
Under Senate Bill 11, workers would be able to take the leave in order to care for a newborn child, manage a long-term illness, care for a family member dealing with illness, deal with domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, bereavement or active duty military service or deployment.
Paid family and medical leave proposal returning to NM Legislature
For a worker making the state minimum wage of $11.50 per hour, they would still get 100% of the wages they would have made. Anyone making more than that would receive 67% of the wages they would have made.
The federal Family Medical Leave Act already protects a worker from losing their job while they are away, but that leave is unpaid.
The program would complement New Mexico’s existing paid sick leave program, in cases where a worker needs to take more extended periods of time away from work for health reasons — cancer, for example.
Someone would have to work for the company for 90 days before they would get job protection from the state under the proposal.