SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Just hours after giving birth, work is usually the last thing on a parent’s mind. But for one Sioux Falls family, lack of paid family leave after the birth of their second child meant the father was back at work the next day.
Camille Pepper, mother of three, told KELOLAND News via phone that lack of paid family leave led her to leave her job before the birth of her second child.
“If I would have received paid family leave I would have been a lot less stressed during my leave and a lot more willing to go back to work,” Pepper said. “A lot of parents quit their jobs while on leave and never return to their job.”
Tuesday, Governor Kristi Noem announced that the state of South Dakota would cover 100% of paid family leave for state employees. In addition, the state would provide $20 million over four years as incentives to private businesses to “buy into a new paid family leave opportunity.”
“One of the biggest challenges facing our state overall is workforce,” Noem said Tuesday to the legislature. “Too often, new parents have to leave the workforce when a new child joins the family. Those early days are so crucial to give moms and dads the opportunity to bond with the new child. By extending paid family leave opportunities, we can help workers and families.”
For Pepper, who has never had paid family leave, this promise from the governor is a good start but she worries how it’ll play out
“I don’t think it will benefit all families unless it’s a law required by the state for companies to give paid leave and a set time/fixed pay for that leave. If companies still have the option to decide, they won’t give paid leave because they lose money,” Pepper said.
In 2017, Senator Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) did attempt to bring a law onto the books that would do just that. The bill failed and Nesiba was planning to bring similar legislation to Pierre in 2023 but has decided against it, he said Wednesday.
“I think that the governor’s approach is a far better approach. I didn’t think I could get the state government to come up with say $20 million to support this sort of thing. My approach was far more modest,” Nesiba said.
According to Nesiba, who spoke with Noem about the paid family leave plan on Tuesday, the state would essentially be buying an insurance policy in which they would pay a monthly premium.
“And that premium is going to pay for… It’s like you’re prepaying really for somebody leaving, that you’re setting those funds aside or the insurance company is setting those funds aside so that 80% of the cost of somebody being gone is paid for by the insurance company, and in this particular agency or department in state government would pay for that other 20%,” Nesiba explained. “Which is something that individual departments and agencies should be able to absorb as just an ongoing and ongoing cost of doing what they do.”
For private businesses, the $20 million that the governor set aside would serve as a subsidy for any company that wants to buy into a similar insurance plan, Nesiba added.
Constituents in Nesiba’s district expressed a desire for paid family leave during his campaign for reelection but said it was only one piece of the puzzle.
“But also we have an ongoing childcare crisis right here in Sioux Falls at least,” Nesiba said. “And that crisis is most acute at the younger ages. And so this at least would give folks a few weeks of being able to bond with their new infant child and help them try to figure out what they’re going to do in terms of child care, but this at least gets us past the first.”
Pepper agrees that childcare is another issue impacting South Dakota families.
“With most Sioux Falls companies having absolutely zero paid leave, parents struggle not only financially but mentally to keep their job and their home life balanced,” Pepper said. “Like I said, a lot of parents quit during leave because the pressure to return early with your job being on the line is too much.”
Nesiba added that while he was very happy with Noem’s commitment to paid family leave, he was disappointed that the governor did not subsidize child care in the state.
“It’s a critical supportive family issue, particularly in a post, you know, post-Dobbs world that we’re living in, it’s so important that there are going to be more children born and we need to make sure that that we have the structures in place as a state to be able to care for those children,” Nesiba said.
Still, Nesiba said that he’s excited to work with Noem on the paid family leave issue as well as repealing the grocery sales tax and improving educational benefits for the National Guard in Pierre next year.
The 2023 legislative session begins January 10 at 12 p.m. CST.