N.H. plans to roll out its voluntary paid family leave program within months
State officials announced more details about the rollout of a new paid family and medical leave program Wednesday.
Expected to launch in 2023, the program will cover roughly 10,000 New Hampshire state employees, plus private businesses and individual workers who opt in.
At a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Chris Sununu called it the “first of its kind” nationwide. He contrasted it to programs in other states that require participation by some or all employers and are funded through payroll taxes.
“It is a completely voluntary program,” he said. “Employers or employees can enter into the program, if they like.”
Administered by insurance company MetLife, the program will cover up to 60% of a person’s wages while they take up to six weeks off to deal with a health condition, care for a sick family member or look after a newborn.
Participating businesses will be eligible for a tax credit that offsets 50% of the cost. People who are self-employed, or who work for a company that doesn’t join, can sign up on their own. Their premiums will be capped at $5 per week, officials said.
Businesses can enroll in December for coverage starting Jan. 1. That will be followed by an open enrollment period for individuals early next year.
The policy passed as part of last year’s state budget. Sununu, a Republican, pitched it as an alternative to Democratic plans he vetoed in 2019 and 2020 that would have required employers to provide paid leave.
Sununu has described those plans’ payroll deductions as amounting to an “income tax.” Democrats dispute that characterization and have said a voluntary system would have fewer participants — and therefore higher premiums — without being accessible to all workers.
On Wednesday, Sununu said including state employees in the risk pool will help spread costs around and argued the program’s tax breaks will encourage businesses to sign up. He said New Hampshire could become a model for other states.
“It isn't about creating a bigger insurance company run by the government,” he said. “Most states do it that way. We don’t. We're really doing that public private partnership, to both get the best cost, the most competition, with the opportunities that we're trying to provide families.”
Business and Industry Association President Mike Skelton, who appeared with Sununu on Wednesday, said the paid leave program will help businesses with their number one priority — hiring enough workers.
“This is another tool in the toolbox for New Hampshire employers to attract and retain talent,” he said.