As legislators at the Minnesota State Capitol debate a paid family and medical leave policy, a new report from the University of Minnesota says the state's rural residents face the greatest need for this type of benefit.
Report author Debra Fitzpatrick says multiple trends in rural Minnesota have created a perfect storm.
She says a shortage of child care and elder care providers, combined with long travel times for medical treatment, means rural workers may need time off to meet those needs.
At the same time, Fitzpatrick says rural employers are often not in an economic position to help.
"When a worker needs to take one of these leaves, the employer's really faced with having to basically tell that worker, 'We can't help you,'" she points out. "'You're going to have to figure out how to continue to pay your bills, etc., on your own.'"
The bill, House File 5, moved forward on a 10-to-5 vote last week in the House Labor Committee.
It is supported by a large and diverse coalition, including newly-elected Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who has said a paid leave proposal is a legislative priority this year.
The proposal would cover 12 weeks of partial wage replacement for medical leave, including pregnancy, and an additional 12 weeks to care for a newborn or family member.
It would be funded through a state-run insurance program from payroll taxes paid by both employers and employees.
Fitzpatrick adds that economic stability for rural workers would help them contribute to their community's success.
"The workforce shortages in rural communities are already challenging and predicted to get worse, and Minnesota is among the nation's highest levels of workforce participation for mothers with young children - even higher in some of these rural parts of the state," he states.
Current federal law guarantees 12 weeks of family and medical leave for most workers, but it's unpaid.
Only 14 percent of Americans have access to paid leave through their employers.
California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and several other states have enacted programs similar to the one proposed in Minnesota.