PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The state rang in the new year with a minimum wage hike, a different name for its beleaguered economic development agency and a new policy to help workers care for loved ones.
The changes were among several devised by new state laws that took effect Wednesday.
Most of the state workforce is now eligible to take paid time off to care for a new child or a sick loved one. The state is the third in the nation to set up such a program, called temporary caregiver insurance.
The benefit would amount to 66 percent of an employee’s regular paycheck, but it’s capped for anyone who makes more than $61,400 annually. The program is funded through a paycheck deduction.
Sen. Gayle Goldin, a Providence Democrat who pushed for the law, said it’s designed to help people care for new children or sick parents, grandparents, children or spouses without worrying about how they'll pay their bills.
‘‘It’s for those unexpected, serious health crises that people can’t plan for,’’ Goldin said. ‘‘It’s a very useful tool for families facing a challenge.’’
Nearly 10,000 Rhode Island workers will automatically benefit from the minimum wage increase. Lawmakers voted to raise the minimum from $7.75 an hour to $8, the second time in two years the state’s minimum wage has gone up.
An $8 minimum puts Rhode Island on par with Massachusetts. Twelve other states also start the new year with higher minimums, including Connecticut, which approved a hike from $8.25 to $8.70 an hour. The federal minimum is $7.25 an hour.
Meanwhile, the new year means Rhode Island’s Economic Development Corp. has a new name: the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. The agency was criticized following its failed $75 million investment in 38 Studios, the now bankrupt video game company started by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.
Earlier this year, lawmakers voted to rename and reconfigure the agency. It was one of several modest steps taken by the General Assembly in response to the state’s struggling economy.
In another effort to boost the business climate, the state’s Department of Labor and Training has eliminated the $42 fee that thousands of state businesses must pay when registering hazardous substances. The elimination of the fee is expected to save businesses $400,000.