WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following the 29th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and uptick in COVID cases at the beginning of 2022, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and 13 of their Senate colleagues are calling on President Joe Biden and House and Senate leadership to reinstate and expand emergency paid sick and family caregiving leave in the FY22 funding bill or future COVID-19 relief packages.
“As Americans continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are writing to urge you to reinstate and expand guaranteed emergency paid sick and family caregiving leave in the FY 2022 funding bill or in any separate COVID relief package Congress considers. Access to guaranteed paid sick and family caregiving leave is a critical public health intervention that will provide needed economic benefits for both workers and businesses as the pandemic continues. It will help American workers keep their jobs and allow more people to return to the workforce,” wrote the senators.
It was reported earlier this month that a record number of Americans missed work in January due to illness. During the week of Jan. 9-15, more than 3.6 million Americans missed work. That was an increase of nearly 2 million from December.
At the onset of the pandemic, Congress passed the bipartisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to provide guaranteed paid sick and caregiving leave to workers at businesses with fewer than 500 workers. Although the FFCRA did not cover all workers, the program’s benefits gave approximately 22 million workers nationwide the option to stay home while sick without losing a paycheck or their job, and prevented approximately 15,000 cases of COVID-19 per day nationwide. In their letter, Brown and Gillibrand urge leaders to prioritize reinstating and expanding guaranteed emergency paid sick and family caregiving leave as a public health priority for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, they request that benefits apply to workers in businesses of all sizes, provide a minimum of ten days of paid sick and family caregiving leave, and be accompanied by tax credits to help businesses cover costs. Guaranteed emergency leave would also ensure workers have the ability to quarantine if needed, get vaccinated for COVID-19, and care for a child who cannot attend in-person school or child care.
The United States is among the few developed countries that do not have a national paid sick, family or medical leave policy. During the recent surge of the Omicron variant between late December 2021 and early January 2022, approximately 8.8 million Americans were unable to work due to illness or the need to care for someone who was sick, and an additional 5.3 million stayed home to care for a child who did not have access to child care. Nearly eight in ten working Americans lack access to comprehensive paid leave and too many have been forced to choose between a paycheck or caring for themselves or a loved one. Paid sick days and paid family and medical leave are critical to helping ensure the economic security of working families and stymie the spread of coronavirus.
Throughout the pandemic, women have been disproportionately affected by job losses. According to the National Women’s Law Center, women accounted for nearly 60% of the 4.2 million jobs lost between February 2020 and October 2021, with many forced to leave due to family considerations or because they work in some of the hardest hit sectors of the economy. These women, and particularly women of color, are also more likely to be employed in roles that lack paid sick leave and the ability to work from home. Without a permanent paid leave solution and emergency paid sick and family leave, more women are at risk of losing their livelihoods, more workers are at risk of getting sick when they can’t stay home, and our economic recovery is at risk of being stalled.