Last night, Congress passed a relief package that will provide desperately needed relief to many across the United States who need financial support. We applaud the inclusion of direct payments to many families and the extension of unemployment relief. However, this package does not go nearly far enough.
In particular, we are disappointed that in addressing the needs of those of us struggling to stay safe and healthy despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress was unable to agree on a package that extended the guarantee of paid leave to all workers who are facing COVID-related illness or need to care for family members who are ill or otherwise in need of care. At a time when a deadly virus is raging, it should be self-evident that workers should not be asked to sacrifice their economic security in order to protect their health, the health of their loved ones and the health of their communities.
We want to thank those who fought for the recognition that paid leave is integral to responding to the COVID pandemic and for fighting for meaningful paid leave throughout the negotiations—in particular Speaker Pelosi, Senators Murray and Gillibrand, Congresswoman DeLauro.
But there is no excuse for leaving paid leave for workers out of a package that should address the health and economic needs of all those struggling through this pandemic. There are millions of workers who have no access to paid leave—women of color are disproportionately among those without a single day of paid time to care for themselves or a loved one. It is a travesty to offer those workers no help or relief if they or a family member are ill or in need of care.
Republican leaders fought extension of the paid leave program that was enacted last March and sunsets on December 31. The only thing they were willing to do was provide tax credits to businesses until March 31 if they choose to give paid leave. That is little comfort to the millions of workers – like the workers we hear from every day through our free legal helpline – whose employers will not choose to give them leave. Make no mistake, the soon-to-expire right to paid leave has been a lifeline for workers facing the health and care challenges posed by the coronavirus. Through our helpline, we’ve assisted these workers in exercising their rights every day, and many of them have shared their stories on the world of difference access to this protection has made. After December 31, unless they live in a state or locality that currently requires employers to give paid sick time, or unless they are entitled to leave under a collective bargaining agreement, they will no longer have this fundamental workplace right.
Many states and localities have stepped up in this crisis to provide emergency leave even beyond that required in the expiring Federal law. We call on those states and others to guarantee emergency paid leave to all workers who need it due to covid. The fact that there are tax credits available for businesses with fewer than 500 workers means that those businesses can provide the leave with little cost. The lack of economic impact to the employer on the one hand and the incredible benefit for workers and the public on the other should persuade legislatures and governors to do the right thing where the Federal government has not.
There is one piece of good news for independent contractors in the relief package: They will still be entitled to tax credits if they need to take COVID-related sick time.
A Better Balance is available to help with any effort to enact emergency paid leave at the state or local level. We won’t stop fighting for a permanent nationwide program to guarantee paid leave to all workers.