Community leaders join Whip Lawson, Rep. Giraldo to urge passage of legislation to expand paid family leave


STATE HOUSE — Senate Majority Whip Valarie J. Lawson, Rep. Joshua J. Giraldo and community leaders representing the Rhode Island Paid Family Leave Coalition gathered today to urge lawmakers to expand the state’s paid leave program, known as Temporary Caregiver Insurance, from six weeks to 12. This would bring Rhode Island in line with other states and allow new parents more time for parental leave and caregivers more time to care for a critically ill family member.

The coalition’s top priority in this session of the General Assembly is to enact Senator Lawson’s and Representative Giraldo’s legislation (2024-S 2121, 2024-H 7171). Joining the legislative champions at a State House press conference today were representatives of the Economic Progress Institute, Women’s Policy Institute, AARP, AFL-CIO, Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Black Business Association and the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“This bill is 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 people have the time to bond with their babies is a healthier society, in every sense of the word.”

The legislation would also expand the definition of critically ill family to include grandchildren, siblings and “care recipients,” meaning individuals for whom the worker is a primary caretaker.

“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.”

The United States is one of only six countries in the world, and the only wealthy country, without guaranteed paid parental leave, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. In recent years, some states have stepped up to offer their own programs.

“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 loved ones.”

Rhode Island became the third state in the nation to offer paid parental leave in 2013 when legislators created the 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. That can prove vital for a working adult who needs to care for their spouse after surgery or a terminally ill parent.

Since 2013, however, many other states have surpassed Rhode Island’s leave offerings. 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. 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.

“Too many working-class people in Rhode Island are unable to spend the time they need to with a newborn or a sick loved one because our paid leave law has not kept pace with the changes in society,” said Patrick Crowley, secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO. “Workers cannot, and should not, be put in the position of sacrificing their precious time with loved ones who need them and their paychecks.” 

Said Maureen Maigret, policy advisor with the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island, “Rhode Island has been a leader in passing family-friendly laws and the Senior Agenda Coalition is proud to have been in the forefront of advocating for them. We know our Temporary Caregiver Insurance law is important for older adults. As people age and have health care needs, they often must rely on family members to assist with their care. Recently, however, we have fallen behind in the number of weeks available for paid leave and the persons who are eligible. As someone who has been a caregiver for many family members including a parent and sisters, I know how important it is to be able to take time out of work when family members need our help. Also, today more grandparents who are still in the workforce are caring for grandchildren. By adding grandchildren, the bills will make it easier for them to be with grandchildren during prolonged illnesses and provide them with both resources and important job protections. I applaud and thank Senator Lawson and Representative Giraldo for championing this legislation.”

Along with the benefits for individuals, 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. All of these factors have an economic impact as sicker children require more resources and healthier, better educated children have higher lifetime earnings.

“Passage of the extended family leave act benefits the health and growth of the people that Rhode Islanders hold dear,” said Elizabeth B. Lange, MD, FAAP, a practicing pediatrician, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and former president of the Rhode Island Medical Society. “Paid family leave is essential for promoting health equity, supporting family well-being and creating a positive workplace culture that supports employee retention and productivity. Enactment of this legislation will make our children and families healthier and support all working parents.”

Said Alex Birch of the Women’s Policy Institute, “When my daughter was born, I was living in Massachusetts and their 12-week paid family leave program had just gone into effect. Caring for a newborn while recovering from birth is the hardest job I’ve ever had, and I needed every one of those 12 weeks before returning to work. I was born and raised in Rhode Island and want our state to pay attention to this issue, because six weeks of TCI after the birth of a child is not enough.”

“Expanding TCI means growing small businesses,” said Kristina Contreras Fox, director of policy and advocacy for the Rhode Island Black Business Association. “A national outcomes analysis found that when states provide paid leave, small businesses experienced on average about 5% greater revenue and 7% greater profit per full-time employee. Compare that to the 150% loss experienced when an FTE leaves permanently. A large company can mitigate such losses since they have the resources to provide their own paid leave program. The majority of RIBBA's members are microenterprises, meaning four or less employees. They don't have the same resources, which is why we are advocating so strongly for expanding paid leave in Rhode Island. State-run paid leave programs share the costs of providing leave with small businesses. Our neighboring states understand this, which is why Connecticut’s paid leave provides 12 weeks and Massachusetts 26, including family and medical leave; Maine recently approved their program and set it at 12 weeks. Why can’t Rhode Island’s small business owners and entrepreneurs enjoy the same resources and supports as their counterparts just across the border? That economic development and resulting prosperity should happen here in Rhode Island. An effective state-run paid leave program helps small businesses thrive. It's past time to bring Rhode Island’s program to where it should be. Our leaders must pass paid leave expansion now.”