O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
It’s time for New Hampshire to allow for a simple, employee-funded insurance program to allow workers to take paid time off to care for newborn children, recover from illness or injuries, take care of their ailing parents, or recover from substance misuse disorders.
On Wednesday Feb. 7 the New Hampshire House is scheduled to vote on HB 628, which would establish a Paid Family and Medical Leave insurance program for Granite State workers.
How does it work? Workers would pay .67 percent of their salary into the fund and after six months they will be eligible for six weeks of paid leave to deal with medical emergencies. For someone making $50,000 per year that would amount to $6.70 per week.
People who object to participation are given the opportunity to opt out. Additionally, the program is funded by employee contributions; employers would not be required to contribute anything.
We know that 82 percent of New Hampshire residents favor establishing a Paid Family and Medical Leave insurance program. Why? Because we all know someone who wrestled with the burden of caring for a parent, a child, or themselves while fearing they would lose their job if they took off the time that was truly needed.
These friend and neighbors are not alone. Only 11 percent of workers in the U.S. have access to paid family leave through an employer, and fewer than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave. Thousands of New Hampshire workers continue to face severe challenges without paid time off to care for their newborn children, recover from illness or injuries, take care of their ailing parents, or recover from substance misuse disorders.
As someone who works with people recovering from substance abuse and being in recovery from drugs and alcohol myself, I see Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance as one more tool we can use to help us combat the opioid crisis.
I struggled with my own battle with addiction and was too afraid to ask for help in fear of getting fired and loosing my insurance. I kept my battles to myself and progressively got worse. I ended up losing my job due to my alcoholism. I was then without a job, insurance, and without a clue on how to seek support. I was out of work for six months due to the extensive amount of treatment I needed from hospitalization, to crisis centers, rehab and transitional living. I eventually got myself back on my feet, but much of that could have been avoided if I knew I was able to take time off work to take care of my mental health and substance misuse.
I now work in a recovery resource center where I see my clients battle every day trying to navigate their health, jobs, home, and family. There is a huge fear of trying to seek help out of fear of what their employer will do. For many people trying to get help for their substance use disorder a 28-day program is needed. For the many of them with jobs they are unable to take that time off. Because of the nature of substance use disorder, it often comes with other health related issues. Health care issues that require extensive treatment that would require time away from work.
The more barriers we create for people with substance use disorder the harder it is for them in their recovery. Which creates a ripple effect. A need to be out of work for 28 days could turn into a battle of needing intensive help for six months, like in my case. That puts a strain on that person, employment the economy, families, and communities.
Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance is painfully logical, because the more an individual struggles on a personal level the more that struggle creeps into the rest of society. This bill, in my eyes, is one more preventative measure we need to make our communities stronger.
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Nikki Casey lives in Manchester and works as a Director at Revive Recovery Resource Center.