Erik and Dawn Deneault have two healthy children and were blindsided when their third child, Danica, was born with brain malformations. Their life suddenly consisted of days and weeks of medical visits in Providence and Boston and months of searching for a way to decrease their daughter’s 40 to 50 seizures a day.
Dawn Deneault had worked as a bookkeeper, but left the workforce to care for their children and manage the complex details of their home life.
“I had to make a choice to go with my family for medical appointments for a few days or work,” said Erik Deneault, who was employed at the time as a financial adviser at an accounting firm. “Both were ineffective. At work I was worrying about my family and with my family I was worried about work.”
Deneault, of North Providence, testified at an April 24 hearing before the Senate Labor Committee in support of S-231. The bill would expand the state’s mandated Temporary Disability Insurance to include up to eight weeks of temporary caregiver insurance. Deneault said it would have helped in the first months of his daughter’s overwhelming medical needs.
“I got laid off and never got rehired from the accounting firm. I wasn’t bringing in enough new business and my employer could not sustain my salary,” Deneault said.
Now he’s working on commission for an insurance agency.
While supporters of the bill said it fills a gap in finances and peace of mind and builds company loyalty because employees would tend to return to work after the crisis, those who oppose it said there are more effective and less expensive ways to provide similar coverage.
“I don’t think it’s bad to provide family leave. It might be kind of a good idea to do that,” said Ken Block, president of Warwick-based Simpatico Software Systems and a member of the Smaller Business Association of New England, or SBANE. “But I don’t think it should be expanded, with the current cost of TDI.
“In Rhode Island, TDI is 1.2 percent of gross salary, capped at about $61,000 per year on the top end. So if you make $61,000 or more, your contribution is $720 a year. That’s a lot,” said Block, who was the sole person speaking in opposition to the bill at the April 24 hearing.