MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
It is incredibly time consuming for small businesses to shop for insurance programs that ultimately are unaffordable and inaccessible.
I have taken time away from my small business several times this year to go to the Minnesota Capitol to testify in support of paid family and medical leave insurance. I started advocating on for this program because I know the kinds of sacrifices small businesses make, and I keep returning because the amount of misinformation circulating in the halls of our Capitol endangers our small business economy.
Sarah PiepenbergWe need a statewide or national paid family and medical leave program. Not having this safety net has been really tough on my business. I have five employees, and I paid thousands of dollars out of pocket when one of my employees broke both of her arms two years ago. I am still recovering from this added and unexpected cost, but had I not covered her, I would have lost one of my best employees.
This year, I have an employee who needs a hip replacement, and we expect that the employee will be out for 10 weeks. I want to be able to cover this employee, but doing so would be a huge financial hit to our business and our family. The last time we covered medical leave out of pocket, we fell behind on our commercial lease and home mortgage.
Private insurance? I looked into that.
Over and over, I have been told by legislators that I should buy disability coverage from a private insurance company instead of asking our elected representatives to solve this problem by creating a paid leave program for all Minnesota employees and businesses like mine.
Growing tired of this refrain, I recently sacrificed more of my time to speak with insurance agents, thinking maybe I missed something.
After more than five hours of speaking to multiple companies and agents, I can tell you one thing for certain: For small businesses like mine, there are NO private insurance options on the market that will actually cover my employees in their time of need.
Waiting periods, exclusions …
The private temporary disability plans out there fall short in many important ways. They are expensive, ranging from $200-300 per month for a business our size. They are peppered with harmful carve-outs, and would fail to cover the situations we’ve already encountered. They contain waiting periods, minimum hospital stays, exclusions for cancer, and variance in plan offerings and pricing depending on which agent you talk to. Small businesses need a transparent and reliable coverage option, and we need the Legislature’s help to get there.
Under the proposed Paid Family & Medical Leave Act, I would pay $111 each month to cover my husband, our five employees and me. In return, every person who works for my business, including me, would have the protection of 12 weeks of paid medical leave or family leave with partial wage replacement for the duration of time we needed to be away.
A smart investment
For my business, $111 per month is not a small expense, but it’s one I can manage. And the return would be more than worth it: a high-quality family and medical leave insurance plan will help my small business keep its valued employees. It’s a smart investment in a business that I hope will continue to grow and serve our community.
It is incredibly time consuming for small businesses like mine to shop for insurance programs that ultimately are unaffordable and inaccessible. Disability programs on the private market vary, but they are far more costly and provide far less coverage than the Paid Family & Medical Leave Act at the state level or the FAMILY Act at the federal level would. By establishing a paid family and medical leave insurance program, our representatives could help all businesses and all working Minnesotans better balance work and family.
Legislators who have never operated a small business should stop posturing about all the “options” out there. It’s time to listen to the small businesses that are showing up and testifying in support of this critical program. We want to get back to the business of running our businesses – and we want lawmakers do their jobs and pass paid family and medical leave insurance.
Sarah Piepenberg is the owner of Vinaigrette in Minneapolis and a member of Main Street Alliance.
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