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I want to take this opportunity to provide comments on behalf of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association and the members we serve across Minnesota regarding the Paid Family and Medical Leave Bill (PFML), SF 2/HF 2. MREA and electric cooperatives across Minnesota employ over 2,900 Minnesotans and provide affordable, reliable, and sustainable electricity to over 1.7 million Minnesotans spanning every county of our state.

Each of our 50 member-owned cooperatives is not-for-profit and owned by the Minnesotans they serve. Make no mistake, Minnesota’s electric cooperatives strongly support paid leave policies. We make paid leave benefits available to our employees and their families because we deeply care about each of our workers. We also know these benefits make us competitive in attracting and maintaining a talented workforce, which allows us to better serve our members.

Because the PFML Bill will make it more difficult for us to deliver paid family leave benefits to our employees, we oppose the bill as currently drafted. We believe this bill will disrupt our existing PFML plans by forcing our employees into a less effective state-run program. Additionally, given our non-profit status, the costs imposed by this legislation will be paid by our employees and/or hardworking Minnesotans trying to pay their electric bills.

For many cooperative employees, this state-run program will represent reduced benefits and a new payroll tax taken out of their paycheck.  We are specifically concerned with this new government program’s expansive definition of family, no cap on the 24+ weeks of leave, and the short window of 90 days required before eligibility for this program.

Additionally, SF 2/HF 2 is not consistent with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The different definitions, eligibility, and use of leave will create an unnecessary administrative and cost burden on our employees. The bill will also impose onerous penalties on Minnesota’s electric cooperatives that will in turn be passed on to our member-owners. Electric cooperatives collect only what they need to operate from their member-owners, and all additional costs will ultimately be borne by them. These additional costs will have a profound effect on middle and low-income families already struggling with high inflation.

We ask that you consider a benefit program that is easy to administer, and which will not punish employees who already receive comparable benefits from their employers.

We stand ready and willing to work with legislators, other stakeholders, and our members on this important issue.