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New Tax, State Agency Rising Around Paid Leave Law

The brand new Department of Family and Medical Leave is stirring to life as it prepares to hire a director, release draft regulations, convene public hearings and begin collecting the payroll taxes that will fund the new state benefits program.

The Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) will be responsible for operating the estimated $800 million paid family and medical leave program launched so workers can more easily take care of themselves and their families without facing fiscal crises. The program will be backed by a 0.63 percent payroll tax, which the DFML said it plans to begin collecting from employers on July 1.

Draft rules for the new program are expected by next week and the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, which will oversee DFML, has scheduled a series of seven public listening sessions across the state between Jan. 30 and Feb. 19 to solicit feedback on the regulations and implementation of the program.

"The program will be available to every worker in Massachusetts and will affect every employer in the state," EOLWD said.

EOLWD said it has been drafting the program's proposed regulations, which are expected to be released on Jan. 23, in conjunction with the Executive Office of Administration and Finance and the governor's office.

EOLWD is also looking to put someone in charge of the new program. Last month, the jobs of DFML director and operations manager were posted. The director will "be working on an expedited timeline to build a team, assess new and existing technologies to create efficient and streamlined operations, and design/implement strategic business plans to achieve department goals," according to the job posting.

The new DFML will be "staffed and fully operational by July 1, 2019," EOLWD said. The secretariat said it hopes to announce a decision on the director of DFML "in the near future."

The benefits program was created as part of the so-called Grand Bargain, an expansive law which the Legislature passed and Gov. Charlie Baker signed in June to keep issues like paid family leavel a sales tax reduction and a minimum wage increase off the November ballot.

The new law calls for up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, to care for a new child, or to meet family needs arising from a family member's active duty military service. It also authorizes up to 20 weeks of job-protected paid leave to recover from a worker's own serious illness or injury, or to care for a seriously ill or injured service member.

Benefits will become available on Jan. 1, 2021 for workers seeking time off to bond with a new child, take care of a sick or injured servicemember or to tend to a serious personal health condition. On July 1, 2021, benefits will be made available for workers to care for a family member with a serious health condition.

The leave benefits are to be funded through employer contributions to a new trust. The contribution rate is 0.63 percent on the first $128,400 of a worker's annual earnings and employers can require that employees contribute up to 40 percent of their total medical leave contribution and up to 100 percent of their total family leave contribution.

This week, the Department of Revenue circulated a notice on behalf of the DFML informing businesses that they will be required to remit contributions through the DOR's MassTaxConnect online portal beginning July 1.

Baker, who had repeatedly voiced general opposition to broad-based tax increases, approved of the new payroll tax when he signed the Grand Bargain bill.

"I guess the way I think about this is there's a benefit that's attached to this thing, and that benefit is a paid family leave provision that did not previously exist in state law," Baker said last summer when asked if his no-new-taxes stance would prevent him from signing the bill.

Workers taking paid leave will receive a percentage of their average weekly wages, up to a maximum benefit of $850 per week. The weekly benefit will be equal to 80 percent of the state's average weekly wage plus half of the portion of the individual's average weekly wage that is greater than the state average weekly wage.

Senate President Karen Spilka, who filed a bill last session to establish a paid family and medical leave program in Massachusetts, said in June that such a program "will help not only so many women but men and families and clearly kids from all backgrounds, and that would help every single resident of Massachusetts."

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