New moms hopeful for paid family leave in Minnesota; small businesses worry about impacts

For the last decade, Margaret Citta has made her choices with her future children in mind, 3-month-old Beatrix and 3-year-old, Imogen.

"I've always been super conscious of hoarding my sick time and going to work when I'm not feeling well," said Citta, who works as a school counselor.

She qualifies for FMLA, but the school district where she works doesn't offer paid time off for maternity leave, so her choices were either to stockpile sick days or take unpaid days off. 

"If I had had more time even at half pay, I absolutely would have taken it with (Beatrix). She's not sleeping through the night yet. She's really little," she said.

At nine months pregnant with Beatrix, she testified in support of paid family and medical leave in Minnesota, but she was also thinking about her very first pregnancy. Four years ago, she delivered her son, Jude, stillborn.

"It really adds insult to injury to like give birth and you plan on taking a baby home and you don't get to and it's so traumatizing," she said. 

Amid that trauma and having to physically recover from giving birth, she only took five days off. Again, she was thinking about the future family she always dreamed of having.

"I wish I had felt like I could take a little more time," she explained.

The bill she supports would establish a state-run insurance program providing Minnesota workers paid time off to deal with family or medical issues. It passed both chambers and lawmakers ironed out the details in conference committee over the weekend. 

The proposal, which was set to be discussed on both the House and Senate floors Tuesday but was delayed, would offer a maximum of 20 weeks annually. The program would be available beginning in 2026.

Small business leaders have raised concerns about the proposal, which they feel would make it harder for businesses to keep their doors open. They feel the bill only got worse as it went through the legislative process.

"For small business owners that we represent, this bill is probably the No. 1 concern that I've heard all session along here at the legislature. And it really gets at two of the biggest challenges that small businesses are facing right now which are: hard to find workers and they're really squeezed financially," said John Reynolds, the state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

Reynolds said the business community has been pushing the DFL to find a compromise, but instead, Minnesota’s program would be one of the most expensive and complex programs in the country.

"Taking people out of the workforce for up to 20 weeks per year every year is a real challenge for small businesses who are trying to manage 5-person shops or 10-person shops or 20-person shops," he explained.