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December 13, 2021 5 We Watched In 2021

Barton Reeves shepherds debut of CT’s paid leave program

HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever Andrea Barton Reeves, CEO of the Connecticut Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Authority.

On Dec. 1, Connecticut’s new paid medical and family leave program began accepting applications, a significant milestone in the two and a half year journey by the state to set up a benefit system that will give workers more leeway in navigating demands outside of their working lives.

Front and center in that effort has been Andrea Barton Reeves, CEO of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Authority, the agency charged with standing up the program and getting tens of thousands of Connecticut businesses on board.

Coming into the year, the former nonprofit executive said the authority’s most pressing priorities would be hiring a vendor to provide and operate a claims-administration system and continuing outreach efforts to enroll businesses and explain to workers how the paid leave benefits — funded through a 0.5% payroll deduction — will ultimately work.

Since then, the authority has brought on Georgia-based insurer Aflac to administer claims, hosted dozens of webinars and redoubled its informational campaign to ensure that even the smallest businesses are aware of the changes coming into effect.

As the first applications rolled in on Dec. 1, Barton Reeves told reporters at a press conference in New Haven that the system seemed to be running smoothly.

“We’re very excited,” she said. “We’ve had very few issues or problems and people really are taking advantage and availing themselves of a benefit that the Connecticut people and workers pay for.”

Speaking at around midday Dec. 1, Barton Reeves said about 500 applications had come in so far. The authority is expecting about 1,000 to 1,500 applications per day for a time before those numbers eventually level off.

“We’re about where we thought we would be today,” she said.

‘Powerful voice’

When the extended leave program kicks in Jan. 1, eligible workers will be able to take up to 12 paid weeks off for a number of health- and family-related events, including the birth or adoption of a child, serious illness, pregnancy, organ or blood marrow donation or domestic violence. Residents are also eligible for paid time off to care for a sick or injured relative.

Income replacement varies based on an applicant’s earnings and is capped at 60 times the state’s minimum wage. The combination of employer-provided benefits and benefits received under the paid leave program cannot exceed 100% of a worker’s normal weekly earnings.

According to Barton Reeves, the paid leave program currently has $300 million in its trust fund, and is projected to have $410 million by the end of January.

“We recently had an actuarial analysis that tells us that even with high usage, five years from now, the trust fund is solvent,” she said. “So we’re not concerned about running out of money.”

The law creating the new paid leave system was passed by the General Assembly in 2019 with the strong backing of Gov. Ned Lamont, who had argued that a more generous paid leave policy would not only benefit workers but make Connecticut a more attractive place to do business.

Speaking recently, Lamont credited Barton Reeves and her team for the efficient rollout of a program that will very soon have an immediate impact on the state’s working population.

“Today, we’re on board, people are signing up, it’s under budget, it’s ahead of schedule, and that doesn’t always happen in government,” the governor said. “It gives people confidence that we can make a difference in folks’ lives.”

She won even more effusive praise from Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer and commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services, who serves as chair of the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority’s board of directors.

“She is one of the most talented leaders I have ever worked with in my entire career,” Geballe said. “She is an absolute rock star. She started less than two years ago with a board of directors, a pile of paper that was the legislation and literally nothing else. She started from scratch and in less than two years she built a small and incredibly talented team. She orchestrated all of these third-party relationships we’ve relied on to stand up the authority, and she’s become an incredibly powerful voice for what this program is about and how important it is for the people of Connecticut.”

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