Economic Progress Institute recommends expansion of paid family leave


STATE HOUSE – The Economic Progress Institute (EPI) recommended expanding Rhode Island’s paid family leave program at a policy briefing for legislators, staffers and members of the public Thursday. Senate Majority Whip Valarie Lawson and Rep. Joshua J. Giraldo, who have introduced legislation to expand paid family leave coverage in Rhode Island, invited EPI to present the briefing at the State House.

EPI emphasized the importance of accessible, economically practical and comprehensive paid family leave benefits for Rhode Island families and the economy, and advocated for legislative solutions such as increasing the wage replacement rate to match neighboring states, extending the length of paid family leave, expanding who qualifies as a caregiver, implementing the option to return to work part-time at the end of taking TCI and creating an opt-in for the self-employed and gig workers. It also recommended increasing the taxable wage base to fund these expansions of TCI.

“Paid family leave is a critical resource for families to be able to properly welcome new children to the world and care for aging or sick loved ones,” said Divya Nair, policy analyst with the Economic Progress Institute. “Rhode Island was a national leader when paid family leave was first passed in 2013 but we have since fallen behind other states with similar programs. Rhode Islanders deserve expanded paid family leave to properly care for their loved ones.”

Rhode Island became the third state in the nation to offer paid parental leave in 2013 when legislators created the Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) program. TCI, which is paid for through payroll deductions, allows new parents to take six weeks of paid leave to bond with and care for their child. It also allows individuals to take this time to care for a seriously ill family member.

Currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia offer paid parental leave, with two additional states set to offer it beginning in 2026. Most offer 12 weeks, while Rhode Island offers the least amount of time at just six weeks.

Individuals on TCI in Rhode Island receive 60% of their normal salary, the lowest in New England. Of the ten states that offer similar programs, most workers receive at least 80%. In Massachusetts, workers receive 80% of their salary for 12 weeks. Workers in nearby Connecticut receive 95% of their salary for 12 weeks. TCI benefits are subject to state and federal income tax.

Paid leave provides the invaluable resource of time at pivotal points in the lives of Rhode Islanders. It’s an investment in our workforce and in our children, one that will pay off for generations,said Senator Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence). “A society where everyone has the opportunity to care for a loved one or bond with their babies is a healthier society, in every sense of the word.”

Senator Lawson and Representative Giraldo’s legislation (2024-S 2121, 2024-H 7171) would extend paid family leave from 6 to 12 weeks, expand the definition of critically ill family to include grandchildren, siblings and “care recipients,” meaning individuals for whom the worker is a primary caretaker and increase the weekly dependent allowance paid to those on TCI for each dependent child they have.

“Too many workers aren’t currently covered by TCI because the definition of a family member is overly restrictive,” said Representative Giraldo (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls). “This bill will ensure that workers who need to care for their siblings, grandchildren and dependents won’t need to worry about falling through the cracks.”

In 2023, workers earning less than $30,000 annually made up 47% of the workers who paid into the TCI program but only 28% of the workers claiming TCI benefits, according the EPI data.

To help close this gap in usage amount the lowest-paid workers in Rhode Island, EPI recommended increasing the wage replacement rate from the current rate of 60% of their normal salary, alongside administrative solutions like increasing community outreach and education about TCI and increasing access for non-English speakers.

Expanded parental leave has profound benefits for children and our wider society. Parental leave is associated with more relationship satisfaction and lower divorce rates for couples. Studies have found access to paid leave reduces infant mortality, hospital visits and childhood obesity while improving vaccination rates, educational outcomes and long-term parental engagement.

Also in attendance were Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence, Pawtucket) and Reps. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence), David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston), Jennifer Boylan (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence), Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston), Brandon Potter (D-Dist. 16, Cranston), June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol), and Tina Spears (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly).

This is the second of three policy briefings on topics of economic interest to low- and modest-income Rhode Islanders that EPI will host at the State House this legislative session. The first was held Feb. 8 on the topic of predatory lending.