When Maria Duran’s son needed multiple surgeries at the age of 17, she could not be there to take care of him. He spent three months in Utah after a surgery while she continued to work as a housekeeper in New Mexico.
“That caused me a great sense of helplessness because I could not be by his side,” she said.
Duran was one of many supporters who joined state leaders at a press conference Wednesday in calling for support from lawmakers to pass state-supported paid family and medical leave during the upcoming 30-day legislative session.
A new bill is returning this year after Senate Bill 11 died in the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee after concerns from opponents that it would hurt small businesses.
The 2024 proposal was prefiled this week and is awaiting to be processed to receive a bill number and to be posted on the legislature’s website. The four lawmakers present said they will sign on as co-sponsors of the bill.
Sponsors at the press conference heavily emphasized the work done to address concerns with businesses and the growing support from some who were on the fence as the result of those changes.
The new bill promises protections for employers through measures like capping contribution increases, delaying implementation and employee eligibility requirements.
Eligible employees would pay $272 a year through payroll deductions, and employers would pay $218 per mean wage employee per year to fund the program.
Independent analysis by the U.S. Department of Labor and the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research determined the fund would remain solvent based on the parameter of the current version of the bill.
Supporters said workers in New Mexico are looking for jobs with more “family-friendly benefits,” which drives many to seek employment at larger companies.
“Many industries in New Mexico are struggling to recruit and retain staff,” said bill co-sponsor Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos). “Businesses that offer paid family and medical leave have a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining employees. Large employers have the resources to offer programs similar to what we are proposing. Our small, local homegrown businesses don’t have the wherewithal.”
Paid family medical leave would help people facing financial hardship, speakers said.
Hispanic and Native people face a disproportionate amount of such financial hardship, both nationally and in New Mexico. Bill sponsors insist the program would help alleviate some burdens on New Mexico families that could lead to better health and security.
New Mexico had the fourth highest poverty rate last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is also among the states with the highest Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program use in the country. It ranks 50th in child welfare.
“That economic security means there’s not additional stress on parents,” Rep. Linda Serrato (D-Santa Fe) one of the bill’s sponsors, said. “As we heard in multiple cases … we see reduced cases of [adverse childhood experiences], we see reduced cases of domestic violence and we see better outcomes for our kids when there’s economic security ingrained in our policies.”
Paid family and medical leave has been proven to help vulnerable people such as survivors of domestic and sexual violence as well, said Alexandria Taylor, Executive Director of the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention writes that legislation-based support for families provides opportunities, strengthens financial supports, reduces disharmony in families and empowers women.
“If we want to get serious about eliminating sexual and domestic violence in our society we should pass sound policies like paid family medical leave to do so,” Taylor said. “I have witnessed time and time again how challenging it is for (survivors) to make decisions about whether to go to work or access life-saving care after being assaulted.”
Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Albuquerque) urged her fellow legislators to back the bill to support family and community, calling pride in the many multigenerational families in the state and caring for one another values that are emblematic of New Mexico.
She said many workers are forced to choose between their jobs, health and families.
“This valuable time to care for ourselves and our loved ones is a basic right that our workers need and deserve,” Roybal Caballero said.
Her experience as a single mother working two jobs and then later caring for her elderly parents on reduced work hours emphasized the urgency of the issue.
“We can’t delay.”