May 21, 2019

Groups urge three-month delay in new paid leave taxes

State government should approve a three-month delay in payroll taxes needed to fund the new paid family and medical leave program, according to a coalition of business, labor and social justice groups.

In a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, officials from Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and Raise Up Massachusetts said there's a need for a three-month extension of the July 1 deadline for approval of employers' private paid and family medical leave plans and the start of required plan contributions.

AIM, Raise Up Massachusetts and several other major groups also jointly recommended five other amendments to the paid leave law "that are necessary for clarification of rights and responsibilities of stakeholders to effect the smooth implementation and operation of the new law."

The law was part of the so-called grand bargain law agreed to in 2018 to address initiative petitions that would have asked voters to raise the minimum wage and reduce the sales tax. The grand bargain law includes a gradual increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023, but did not reduce the sales tax.

A three-month extension, officials wrote, would provide time to address "the lack of employer clarity on the regulations," to communicate with employees about payroll deductions, and to enable insurance providers to develop products to assist employers.

Recommended amendments deal with intermittent leave, serious health conditions, and measures aligning with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Representatives of those groups said the amendments are based on feedback provided at listening sessions hosted by the state, and said the changes would not affect benefits under the new law or the timing of eligibility for benefits. They said an extension would also create more time to ensure direction from the state and federal government on how benefits under the new law should be treated for tax purposes.

Benefits are scheduled to 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.

Officials from the following groups signed the letter: Raise Up Massachusetts, AIM, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, Greater Boston Legal Services, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, SEIU 509, the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance for Business Leadership.

While the groups jointly recommended language that the Legislature should consider, an official familiar with the effort said they are leaving it up to the state's top leaders to decide who will file legislation encompassing the amendments.

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