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On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

On the Trail: As paid leave catches on in Missouri agencies, lawmakers wonder about cost

Eric and Sheena Greitens hold their sons, Joshua and Jacob, while speaking to reporters after casting their ballots the St. Louis Public Library in the Central West End. 2016
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Eric and Sheena Greitens hold their sons, Joshua and Jacob, while speaking to reporters after casting their ballots the St. Louis Public Library in the Central West End on November 8, 2016.

Updated at 5 p.m. Friday with more data from state agencies: At least 580 Missouri state government employees have taken advantage of paid family leave since Gov. Eric Greitens’ executive order in March.

While some state lawmakers are glad the benefit is available, they worry about what it’s costing the state.

Greitens’ executive order allows some state workers to get up to six weeks paid time off after the birth or adoption of the child. But the order only applies to “executive agencies” run by gubernatorial appointees. However, one agency not controlled by the governor, the Missouri Department of Transportation, chose to offer its employees paid leave as well.

St. Louis Public Radio asked 12 state agencies how many employees had applied for paid leave and how much the benefit cost. Based on data from those  departments that provided information by Friday afternoon,, at least 580 state employees have applied.

The state's Department of Corrections (130), Department of Social Services (96) and Department of Mental Health (95) saw the most paid leave applications. The Department of Natural Resources (10), the Department of Insurance and Financial Institutions and Professional Registration (9) Department of Economic Development (7) and the Department of Agriculture (6) saw paid leave used less often.

Wendy Doyle is the president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation, which has advocated for paid family leave. She said she’s pleasantly surprised by how many state workers took advantage of the benefit.

“We really see this an opportunity to help further and spur economic development — and help support the economy … in Missouri,” Doyle said. “By offering this, it keeps the employees retained. And the costs to hire a new employee is extremely expensive to an organization.”

Cost of benefit

Most of the agencies that responded said paid leave hasn’t cost money, because they didn’t hire temporary workers to cover for somebody who takes time off.  

Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, said he's concerned about what paid leave will ultimately cost the state.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Dan Brown, R-Rolla, said that approach won’t be possible in every circumstance, offering examples of a prison or a mental health facility employee.

“I think if we’d been allowed to weigh in on this, maybe we would have had it a little more clearly defined before the executive order went out,” Brown said. “Just dealing with the departments that have a critical number of people that have to be on staff at a time, and a lot of those people, you have to realize, are younger people that are of childbearing years.”

Budget officials estimated this year that paid leave would cost around $1.1 million, which Brown said “seems extremely low to me.”

A better approach, according to Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur, said would involve employees contributing a small amount of their paychecks into a statewide pool to help pay for the time off.

While Schupp said she also wants more information about the total cost of paid leave, she added it’s “great news” how many people benefited from Greitens’ decision.

“We, as legislators who serve and go to Jefferson City, will be able to have access to some of these people to talk to them and say ‘tell me what this has meant to you and your family in your life, if there’s any question about it,’” said Schupp, who supports the practice.

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.