Dreamforce 2021 - how Connecticut scaled up a new Paid Family Leave scheme during COVID-19

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez September 22, 2021
Connecticut voted for Paid Family Leave as a new law back in 2019 and has been working on building digital tools, alongside stakeholder engagement, to get the scheme up and running.

Image of two parents and their baby
(Image by Stephanie Pratt from Pixabay )

In July 2019 the State of Connecticut voted for the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act to become law. Beginning in 2022, eligible employees working for employers of all sizes throughout Connecticut will be entitled to up to 12 weeks of paid leave to attend to certain personal or family health needs.

Although not in force until next year, the Act itself could be seen as somewhat prescient, given the recognition throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that government institutions can play a key role in supporting business and families through times of crisis. In fact, Kris Floyd, Connecticut Paid Family Leave's Chief Operating Officer, admits that it wasn't until the pandemic hit that ‘people understood'. 

Speaking at Dreamforce 2021, Salesforce's annual user event, Flloyd explained that the programme has been being rolled out in two phases. Phase one started in January of this year and has involved the State of Connecticut collecting one half of 1% of employee wages in an employer trust fund. Beginning in January 2022, phase two will see residents able to receive paid leave benefits for qualifying life events, which includes:

  • Experiencing a serious health condition;

  • Caring for a family member experiencing a serious health condition;

  • Caring for a new child (by birth or adoption);

  • Experiencing an exigency arising out of a family member being on active duty;

  • Serving as an organ or bone marrow donor;

  • Being a victim of family violence

Brought to get the scheme up and running, Floyd has helped to grow the organization to 16 people and has been overseeing everything from people, to process, to technology. Floyd said: 

Last spring we had to select a technology platform to build our employer contribution platform. We selected a technology integrator to help us develop that capability and then we had to hire. So, just like a startup business, hiring all the resources: our finance resources, our IT resources, our marketing and communications resources. We are a complete start-up business. And then what made it a little bit more complex, what no-one was expecting…the pandemic! 

The CEO of the programme started in the Connecticut state office in March last year, just two days before everybody was sent home because of COVID-19. Since then the entire team has been working and building Paid Family Leave entirely remotely. Floyd added: 

We've never met each other. All of our teams that are partnering with us to develop all these capabilities, are completely working remotely, And that's a model that a year, two years ago, no one would have thought possible. 

We've all had to be very innovative and be very successful at it. By the end of April of this year we have successfully registered over 110,000 businesses throughout the state to become part of the Paid Leave programme, and that will enable their employees as of January 1st 2022 to reach out to us and apply for payment benefits.

Sharing data for success

As noted above, when the pandemic hit, everyone quickly understood the purpose of Paid Leave benefits. Floyd said: 

People are having to take time off from their work because of the pandemic, where people were sick. A lot of the requests that we got last year were, can we start the programme January 1? How fast can we go?  And really it was one of those situations where we understood the new law goes in January 1 2022, but it's a benefit that everyone immediately, because of the pandemic, saw the relevance, and the impact that it would have for families. And so that need is still there and we know we have demand coming January 1st.

The State has been using data to help register businesses for the scheme. For example, Connecticut has been comparing data with information that is held by the Department of Labor, of businesses that are registered. It has also been working closely with its own Chambers of Commerce to make sure that it can find other small businesses that might not yet know about the new law, and the benefit that it could bring to their employees. Floyd said: 

We're really working to track our registrations, and also looking for businesses that may not know about the programme and get them registered. And then we're also tracking the contributions that are coming in from these businesses, and we've done a very extensive actuarial studies, to make sure that we know that we will have funds, from a solvency perspective. And we so far are exceeding those projections that were measured over the last year and a half.

Last August, what we envisioned was being able to build a platform, build a website, where we knew we would need businesses to register to be part of the paid family leave programme. So one of the key decision points that we thought through was, if we're going to do this, and we want to make it easy for businesses, how can we demonstrate that we actually know them? So one way to do that was to leverage information that we already had with businesses who have to submit information on a monthly or quarterly basis to the Department of Labour and the Department of Revenue services.

And so our intention at that time was to get regular data that we can use, and see that as our platform. I would just say it took a while to work through that process, but we are now there, where we have access to that. 

Floyd said that part of this has included working through memorandums of understanding with government partners to ensure that the correct data protections are in place and that there are agreements about how that data is being used. Floyd added:

Now, as the businesses are registered, we can compare information and we have access to see: are we missing businesses that are registered?Are there other businesses that we should find? Now we are able to be more smart with using data that's already available, and we continue to use that approach.

Stakeholder engagement

The State of Connecticut has also undertaken an extensive outreach and engagement strategy, alongside the data work. Floyd's team knew that many businesses, healthcare providers and employees did not know or understand what the new Act would mean for them, and so did work to understand the different types of relationships and partnerships it had to reach out and help educate about the programme. She said: 

Whether it was banking associations, manufacturing associations, legal firms that have to explain this to their employers. We've hosted over 160 webinars about educating various audiences on Paid Family. We've worked with the libraries, we've worked with the Chambers of Commerce. 

We really, from an outreach perspective, looked at who our key stakeholders were. Also, part of that outreach and engagement, looked at what would be our social media strategy and how we would use the various channels to help convey that message. 

Part of the statute allows people to have life benefits if they are victims of family violence. And so we found the organisations that support women and families around domestic violence. We really had to step back and say: how do we need to educate our audiences? Who are the audiences? And what is the best way to get information about the programme to them?

Floyd's team has also carried out focus group and usability sessions, so that the website and contribution platform meets user needs. They have also carried out listening tours, just asking people: what does Paid Leave mean to you, as you engage with the systems and tools? 

This has been critical in getting the systems up and running. Floyd said: 

I would definitely start with people first, do the listening tours. Find out: what are their needs? The focus group studies that we did were invaluable. And then also, aside from the focus group studies, I would also partner with as many trade associations that you can. 

One of the most valuable relationships that we established was with the National Association of Payroll Reporting Consortium. This is a consortium of payroll providers that are already supporting five or six other states for paid family benefits, and so they understand the data that we need, they understand how other states have collected it. 

They gave us so much information about: here's what the State of Washington did when they implemented paid family leave, here's what Massachusetts did, here's what works, here's where you're going to find pitfalls. You will find, whether it's paid family leave, or any other initiative, there may be trade organisations around your specialty. Build that relationship, and they could be a great partner for you.

Floyd said that the State of Connecticut has already had over 108,000 registrations and that the scheme will have a "direct impact on many people". 

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