COLUMBUS, Ohio — As local officials in Ohio decide how to use American Rescue Plan funds, progressive groups are calling for expansions of paid family and medical leave.

What You Need To Know

  • Advocates say the pandemic highlighted the case for paid family and medical leave

  • Cities will soon receive the second half of their American Rescue Plan funds

  • Progressive groups are calling for funding to be used for expansions of paid leave

In Ohio, most workers do not have paid family leave through their jobs because most employers are not required to provide it, said Will Petrik, who recently wrote a brief for Policy Matters Ohio explaining how American Rescue Plan funds could be used for paid leave.

“Many employers and elected leaders haven't devoted the resources to make sure that all Ohioans have this wellbeing and security that paid time off provides,” he said in an interview. “The pandemic has really highlighted how a lack of paid sick leave, paid family leave, can cause major disruptions to the overall workforce and just to people's lives.”

Several cities, including Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton ,offer paid family leave for municipal employees through programs that predated the pandemic. Petrik said stimulus funds can be used to expand programs for municipal employees in these cities, and they can be used to start similar programs in cities without paid leave. 

About three dozen larger Ohio cities that received their stimulus funds directly from the federal government will soon receive a second round of relief dollars. Smaller local governments will also receive a second round of relief, but state lawmakers must first allocate their funds. 

Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said stimulus funds could also be used at the state level to set up a family and medical leave program that would be available to all workers in Ohio. 

She introduced HB 491 which would create a fund that employees could pay $25-$30 into per month. It would give employees access to up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

“The federal funds certainly give us an opportunity to make some progress here,” she told Spectrum News. “Ohio is getting a second tranche of these federal recovery funds to the tune of $2.68 billion, so thinking about, you know, what are programs, what are benefits that we as a state can invest in that have a huge impact and return on investment in the long run is strategically very smart for us to do.”

Russo said the fund she has proposed would provide a state-administered program for any employee who doesn’t currently have access to paid family and medical leave through their employer and wants to pay in. 

“In the case of paid family and medical leave, one of the things that we could do is use [stimulus funds] essentially as a glide path into a statewide program. For example, helping us set up pilot programs, helping us establish the actuarial studies needed to set the pricing for it. We’ve got an incredible opportunity with these federal relief funds to move this issue forward, we just need to have the political will to do that,” she said. 

Petrik said expanding paid family and medical leave is consistent with the purpose of the American Rescue Plan, as doing so would provide stability to workers during this time of greater disruptions to work. 

“At some point, all of us are going to need to take time away from work to recover from illness, to care for a sick or dying family member or to bond with a new baby or a newly adopted child, and all workers need that time to care for themselves and their family, and they shouldn't have to risk their job and economic security,” he said. 

Russo said paid family and medical leave is essential for working families in Ohio to get through challenging times. 

“Typically, lower income, lower hourly wage workers have not had access to this benefit, and as we learned during the pandemic, and really even before, this is essential for all workers, and a state-administered program would provide that access to all Ohioans,” she said.