This week, Governor Janet Mills signed into law Maine’s latest budget, which invests $25 million in a state paid family and medical leave program. The passage of the budget represents a major victory for workers and advocates, who fought to establish critical protections for workers who must take time away from work due to caregiving obligations or health needs. 

 With passage of this budget bill, Maine becomes the 14th state (including D.C.) to require mandatory paid leave for workers who need time off to care for themselves or others. Nearly half the states with mandatory paid leave enacted or significantly scaled up their programs since 2019 in a rapid response to care challenges spotlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Paid family and medical leave (PFML) programs differ drastically among the several early adopter states, but all . state-led paid leave fills critical gaps in coverage under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. California’s paid leave program, for example, provides benefits to nearly all private sector employees and self employed individuals, extending coverage to 6.2 million more Californians than the FMLA. Washington took an inclusive approach to paid leave by broadly defining “family” to better support immigrants, workers of color and LGBTQ+ employees. State-level action on paid leave yields direct impacts on working families. 

IWPR reports that over one-third of full-time employed women do not have access to paid leave and 65.2% of workers do not have paid family leave. With only unpaid leave benefits secured at the federal level, the states present an opportunity to expand benefits for workers. Women who belong to unions, IWPR found, are 20% more likely to receive paid sick time, which indicates unionization is another path toward workplace equity and benefits for women.

Under the new law in Maine, long-term funding for the paid leave program comes from a new 0.7%-1.0% payroll tax, with equal contributions from employers and employees. Employees who have worked for at least 120 days for the same employer will be eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave. Lawmakers agreed to further support Maine’s small and family-owned businesses by including a contribution exemption for small businesses with fewer than 15 employees. Their employees, however, will contribute to the program and qualify for leave. Benefits are slated to begin May 1, 2026. 

In addition to the state’s first mandatory paid leave program, this budget invests an additional $60 million in child care, doubling state-paid wage stipends for child care workers and expanding family eligibility for subsidized child care. The now $400 monthly stipends aim to retain child care workers and promote access to care for families. Maine’s workforce will be one to watch for measuring the positive impacts of paid leave and accessible child care on families and working women.