All of a Sudden, Phil Scott Cares About Family Leave Again

There’s only one circumstance that makes Gov. Phil Scott care about paid family leave: When it looks like the Legislature is going to pass a universal paid leave plan. That’s when he whips out his grossly inadequate substitute voluntary idea in hopes of peeling a few votes from the Dem/Prog supermajorities.

Scott first floated his voluntary concept four and a half years ago as an alternative to a universal program. A little less than four years ago, he and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced a two-state approach meant to give the program a sounder financial footing. That idea never went anywhere because Vermont lawmakers didn’t buy it and the (then-Republican dominated) New Hampshire Legislature wasn’t interested.

At the time, Scott insisted he could make a go of it in Vermont alone. But he made no apparent efforts to do so.

In 2020, Scott was again offering the voluntary idea but offering no specifics. That situation stayed the same… until now, when his party has taken a shellacking at the polls and he faces veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate. Now he’s got a plan.

Scott insists the timing is pure coincidence, that he didn’t propose a plan earlier because of the pandemic. As if his administration can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

In fact, you should pardon me for pointing this out, the pandemic would have been an ideal moment to offer paid family leave of any kind. If the governor truly cared about this, if he was really committed to his plan, he should have done something before now.

But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and take his word that outside circumstances kept him from announcing an actual program for more than four years. Then we get to the problem that Scott’s program kind of stinks.

It would offer six weeks of time off. At only 60% of the person’s salary.

First of all, six weeks just isn’t very much time for someone in a life-altering circumstance. On parental leave, the New America Foundation did a deep dive on the optimal length of time away from work; the answer was six months to a full year. In other situations, such as illness in the family, that six weeks can go by in the snap of a finger.

But the more problematic issue is that 60%. Some people could afford to lose 40% of their pay during a time of maximum stress, but most could not. And those are the very families in the direst need. It’s a social safety net positioned, you might say, above the 20th floor of a tall building.

And all that is before we get to the “voluntary” thing. Scott posits that employers will be eager to join the program as a recruitment and retention tool, especially in a time of workforce shortages. That might work for employees with valuable or irreplaceable skills, who are likely to be comfortably above median income. In short, this is a program designed for those who need it least, not for those who need it most.

Or, as Michelle Fay of Voices for Vermont Children told VTDigger:

“It’s perplexing that with 20 years of data on how to design an equitable, inclusive paid leave program, the administration continues to put forward a plan that doesn’t meet the minimum standard — which is universal coverage, adequate wage replacement, adequate weeks of leave and public administration.”

That just about sums it up, doesn’t it? As is often the case, Phil Scott cares about an issue unless it might inconvenience the private sector. It’s an earnestly expressed but functionally useless kind of caring.


2 thoughts on “All of a Sudden, Phil Scott Cares About Family Leave Again

  1. P.

    To every Democratic voter who voted for Phil Scott–
    This is the quality of leadership your vote went to.
    And like so many of Scott’s proposals, this rewards the upper half of income brackets and craps on the rest of us. (The Scott administration’s bias towards business will always be a known factor).

  2. WC

    “It’s an earnestly expressed but functionally useless kind of caring.”

    As usual, it’s “follow the money.” If you are not of the money, you’re just a disposable resource for their convenience.


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