Susan Cassell, left, and Elizabeth Zezima help their mother, Rosina Zezima, organize her medications. Photo by Liz Calvi

Susan Cassell, left, and Elizabeth Zezima help their mother, Rosina Zezima, organize her medications. Photo by Liz Calvi

By Beth Levine

Three years ago, Rosina Zezima, then 89, fell in a parking lot near her Stamford home, shattering her femur. Her two daughters scrambled to care for her while still working.

“I took off personal and sick days from work,” said Liz Zezima, of Fairfield, who works in the international trading field.

This was not the first time the family had been through this. Liz Zezima, 60, took time from work in 1995 and 2011 when her father was ill and eventually died. The latter absence prompted threatening and harassing phone calls from her then employer about when she was coming back. “It was frightening and intimidating,” she recalled.

Stories like this have spurred AARP Connecticut, along with more than 65 other organizations and businesses, to urge the General Assembly to provide paid leave for family caregivers. An AARP survey showed support from 83 percent of state voters.

Claudio Gualtieri, AARP Connecticut advocacy director, said such a program would give workers “peace of mind that if there is a need in their family, there is a way for them to get wage replacement and still remain attached to the workforce. Since this also applies to maternity or paternity leave, it is a way to engage younger workers.”

There are about 460,000 family caregivers in Connecticut, who annually provide an estimated $5.9 billion of unpaid caregiving, according to AARP research.

Financed by employees
As envisioned by proponents, a paid family leave bill would require all employees to pay into a state-run trust fund. Sole proprietors and self-employed individuals could also apply to join the paid leave program.

According to an actuarial study conducted by the state, employee contributions would be about 0.5 percent of wages.

Workers who earned at least $2,325 in one of the previous five quarters would be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave within a 12-month period. It would cover 100 percent of weekly wages, up to $1,000 a week.

The Connecticut Business & Industry Association said in a statement that the organization supports businesses “that voluntarily opt to provide this benefit to employees.” But she called the proposal “financially unsustainable. It is a one-size-fits-all solution that many businesses simply will never be able to comply with.”

In addition to the family leave bill, AARP Connecticut plans to urge lawmakers to maintain adequate funding in the state budget for home- and community-based services and respite care resources for family caregivers.

Other legislative priorities for AARP Connecticut include:

  • Opposing any efforts to weaken existing regulations that protect utility customers from overly aggressive marketing practices, high prices and a proliferation of fixed-rate offers with enrollment and termination fees. Such practices have sometimes resulted in residential customers paying more than the standard service charge over the course of their third-party contracts.
  • Blocking any attempt to weaken, repeal or alter the Connecticut Retirement Security Program. Under the program, adopted last year, businesses with five or more employees that do not offer pensions or 401(k) plans will be required to allow workers to participate in a retirement plan funded through a payroll deduction.

Beth Levine is a freelance writer who lives in Stamford, Conn.