Why should Congress improve paid leave policies?

Why should Congress improve paid leave policies?
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As the dual impacts of a pandemic and structural inequalities ravage our country, now is the time to act on the need for paid sick leave across the nation. This Father’s Day, we urge the government to stand up for family values and protect Americans with overdue leave laws that can protect us going forward. We must learn from our mistakes as a nation and ensure the safety of future generations.

Paid leave laws must become a permanent part of our national public health infrastructure and recent developments underscore this need. In the first stimulus package delivered by Congress in response to COVID-19, paid leave allowances were blocked for smaller companies and many essential workers. No other country in the world bases their leave policies based on firm size.  

Skimpy paid sick leave policies facilitated both the spread of the virus and the economic impacts of it by forcing sick people to either lose essential income or go to work sick. It also encouraged people not to get tested. Meanwhile, the people providing us with food and health care were also exempt from these leave provisions, potentially encouraging the spread of COVID-19 and costing lives. It is no coincidence that the countries that experienced a fast spread of COVID-19 were the countries with a lack of paid leave laws. Lives have been lost because of these shortfalls. 

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According to research by Dr. Jody Heymann, founding director of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center, 181 countries in the world have paid sick leave laws. The United States is one of the few countries that does not have such leave laws in place, alongside mostly small island nations with small populations. This is unacceptable and puts our country at risk. This virus is not the last one we will contend with and the outbreaks of the recent past like SARS and MERS are proof. We can wait no longer. Families are being torn apart by this virus, and leave laws are an important solution to the struggles faced by millions. With or without a vaccine, paid leave is essential to keep people safe and secure.

The virus also puts the spotlight on inequalities in American society, where 70 percent of low-income workers have no access to paid sick days. The costs for ignoring this, which unfairly impacts people of color, include higher death rates and devastating economic consequences like lost jobs. The economic toll of the virus was strongest for those who have the weakest financial reserves, and there is immense injustice in these disparities.  

Over 100 organizations and workers from nearly every state have signed onto a petition to end loopholes on paid sick days and paid leave during COVID-19. The outpouring of support for these solutions is further proof of how many Americans are being affected by the current lack of leadership on this issue.  

This Father’s Day, we must recognize the unfair impacts of our lack of paid leave on families facing the greatest racial and economic injustice. It is time to stand up for our nation and give all citizens the protection they deserve.

Esteban Garces is co-executive director of Poder Latinx.