Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand published an opinion piece in Data For Progress outlining the urgent need for universal paid family to recover from and move beyond the COVID-19 crisis. In his recent speech announcing the American Rescue Plan, President Biden highlighted the importance of extending emergency paid leave in upcoming relief legislation.
The full text of Gillibrand’s op-ed may be found here and below:
Paid Family Leave Is A Critical Part Of COVID Recovery
By Senator Kirsten Gillibrand | January 22, 2021
In his speech announcing the American Rescue Plan, President Biden highlighted a host of policies and programs that will help our nation finally take real action to end this pandemic. I was glad to hear him call for one particular policy that will simultaneously “reduce the spread of the virus and make sure workers get the support they need to maintain their families”: paid leave.
The only real path to recovery must include the extension of emergency paid leave to all workers, so that no one is forced to go to work when they are sick, or to leave their job in order to take care of a sick family member. That will help us stem the spread of COVID and ensure that the careers of more working parents, especially working mothers, don’t become casualties to this crisis.
In December, the US economy suffered a net loss of 140,000 jobs. The numbers show that, during that time period, men actually gained 16,000 jobs. That means, on the whole, women’s jobs accounted for every net job loss. Further data on women’s workforce participation revealed an even more painful truth – it was women of color who lost their jobs, while white women made gains. More than 150,000 Black women left the labor force entirely, marking the largest drop in their employment since the start of the pandemic.
Women of color are not only more likely to be essential workers who cannot work remotely, but are also more likely to lack paid leave. The reality is that when children are participating in distance learning or they get sick, women are almost always immediately designated as the caregiver and have to stay home. These women must make an impossible choice between their family and their paycheck. If they have to leave their jobs, they not only lose their ability to provide for their families in the short term, but they also take a hit to their long-term earning potential.
Providing emergency paid leave to all workers would enable those women, and millions more like them, to stay employed, stay paid, and stay on their career path. That’s critical. There are already 5.4 million fewer women working now than at the start of the pandemic. The Center for American Progress found that forcing mothers to leave the labor force or reduce working hours in order to manage caretaking responsibilities could cause up to $64.5 billion of lost wages and economic activity.
Paid leave is an elegant solution to the health and economic crises we face. That’s why I joined with Senator Patty Murray and Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Ayanna Pressley to create a national emergency paid leave program with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It passed in March with support from both sides of the aisle.
Even though it was just a start at addressing this problem, it made an immediate and undeniable difference. Emergency leave gave an estimated 22 million workers across the country the ability to stay home without losing their paycheck or their job. Health Affairs reported that having paid leave helped prevent 15,000 COVID-19 infections every day.
Unfortunately, the program expired at the end of the year and Republicans refused to include an extension in the last COVID relief package. As we face staggering numbers of new cases and a new, highly infectious strain, reinstating this policy is a public health necessity. It’s also what the American people want; Data for Progress’s recent polling found that seven in 10 Americans support extending emergency paid leave.
We called on President Biden and congressional leadership to not only reinstate this policy, but to expand it. We can easily build on the successes of the program by simply closing loopholes that created exemptions for some of the largest corporations in the world and left 75 percent of workers unable to access emergency leave.
We can also build on our ability to respond to this crisis – and the next – by moving towards a permanent universal paid leave program. The United States has the distinct dishonor of being among the few developed countries without a national policy to provide paid sick days and paid family and medical leave to all workers. This deficiency has left more than eight in ten working Americans without access to comprehensive paid leave.
Working people feel the pain of this policy failure every day. Currently, workers lose more than $20 billion in wages each year due to lack of paid leave. Given that, it’s not surprising that seven in 10 people support a program to guarantee paid leave.
My bill, the FAMILY Act, would create it. It would provide workers at companies of all sizes with 12 weeks of paid leave they could use while facing serious health conditions, recovering from childbirth, or caring for a new baby, a sick child or partner, or an aging parent. It would allow workers to earn 66% of their monthly wages during that time, giving a boost to families and our economy.
No one should have to choose between their life and their livelihood — not in the middle of a pandemic, not ever. Providing paid leave now, and in the future, will ensure they don’t have to.