Nearly 20,000 workers received about $81 million in paid leave during the first five months that Connecticut’s new law has been in effect, according to data from the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority.
The 2019 law mandated that employees of private businesses and some public employees put up to half of a percent of their wages aside to be used for paid leave under certain circumstances. This January was the first time that workers could begin collecting on paid leave.
Executive Director Andrea Barton Reeves told CT Examiner that about 1.2 million people pay into the program, and that they anticipate around 94,000 people, at most, filing claims in a year.
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“It’s a small percentage based on the number of people that pay in,” said Reeves. “And that’s because the number of employers who are eligible to participate is quite high.”
According to Connecticut law, any business with even a single employee is required to participate in the program.
Data shows that of the approximately 19,700 workers who have taken paid leave in the first five months of the year, 2/3 are women, and just over half are between the ages of 26 and 41 years old.
About 8,600 workers took leave because of a personal illness or injury, and around 2,000 took leave to care for a sick family member. Another 9,200 took leave either because of pregnancy, childbirth or the desire to “bond” with a child.
Reeves said that the response to the program so far was pretty predictable.
“I think we always knew that the program would be one of high utilization,” said Reeves. “We always thought, based on the experience of other states, that pregnancy and bonding would be fairly high in terms of the number of claims with an employee’s own health condition following close behind.”
The one unexpected occurrence, Reeves said, was a spike of 10,000 claims in the month of February, many from people asking for paid leave for reasons related to the Covid-19 Omicron variant. Earlier this month, Reeves apologized for a backlog in processing that was partly due to this influx.
Reeves said that Covid-19 is not always a reason for paid leave — you either have to have spent multiple days in a hospital, be under the care of a physician or have a chronic condition that has gotten worse.
“So if you’re quarantining or you’re home because someone else is there and your boss won’t let you go back to work – those are a lot of kinds of claims that we got. Those are not covered under the statute,” said Reeves.
Since then, Reeves said, the number of claims has stabilized at about 7,000 per month.
According to the most recent data, the average amount that employees taking paid leave so far are receiving is $562 per week. But Reeves said that this number doesn’t give any indication of the socioeconomic status of the people who generally request paid leave. Some people, she said, work multiple jobs and high-income earners are capped at a weekly benefit of $780.
Additionally, although the paid leave law allows workers to take up to 12 weeks off, the average leave taken in the first five months of 2022 was just under 7 weeks.
Reeves said that the authority has about $460 million available to pay worker’s claims, and that based on the current trajectory, they could pay anywhere from $200 to $300 million — less than their original predictions from the insurance carrier AFLAC of between $375 and $400 million.
In June, the authority paid an additional $11 million, bringing the total paid claims to $92 million.
Asked whether the fund was on a sustainable path, Reeves replied that, “based on the actuarial analysis from 2021, even in the worse case scenario, the fund is predicted to be solvent for the next 5 years. If solvency becomes a concern, the board has statutory authority to adjust the benefits payments to assure the fund’s solvency.”
The authority will issue an official report of the data on July 1.