Paid leave and child care are fundamental to recovery

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The spread of COVID-19 within the White House has put a spotlight on the reality that this pandemic continues to spread — putting our public health, workers and families at risk. And while administration staff are able to take leave, this benefit does not extend to so many workers across the country. 

Lawmakers must do more to protect families and workers from this dangerous pandemic. 

Families across the U.S. are in greater need than ever; for many adults, taking a sick day is truly not an option. 

Frontline workers — like grocery store clerks, waiters, child care providers and bus drivers — are the least likely to have paid sick days. And many can’t afford to forgo a day of pay if they are sick, let alone pay the high cost of child care — if they can even find it. 

Oftentimes individuals have to choose between putting their family’s health at risk and their livelihoods.   

Out of fear of missing a paycheck or losing their job, many people have no choice but to go to work where they might interact with hundreds of colleagues and customers. The fear of contracting or spreading COVID-19 has forced millions of workers to make this decision routinely: go to work sick so they can pay rent, buy food and afford child care, or prioritize their health and risk economic instability. 

For years, only a small, privileged group in the United States have received any paid leave. One quarter of all private sector workers, and almost seven in 10 low-income workers, do not have access to a single paid sick day. And the burden is significant for people of color with one in three Black workers and nearly half of Latinx workers denied any paid time off work. 

This pandemic has put many working families in crisis. A NPR/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation poll finds that nearly three quarters of households with children making less than $100,000 annually are facing serious financial problems. Researchers also found that in 60 percent of all households with children, at least one adult has lost a job, been furloughed or had their hours or wages cut during the COVID-19 crisis. For parents and primary caregivers who can’t take time off to care for their children, child care options are limited. As of July 2020, 40 percent of child care centers nationwide remained closed, narrowing an already restricted choice. 

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed in 1993, laying a foundation for progress but leaving much work to be done. In 30 years, we’ve only chipped away at what all Americans desperately need: fair and equitable paid leave for all workers, and accessible and affordable child care. It’s clear that COVID-19 is not a temporary crisis. Doctors and scientists agree that we will be living in this world for a very long time. Lawmakers must do more to protect families and workers as they weather this storm.

We’ve made progress, but not nearly enough. This year, paid leave and child care has rightfully come to the fore of policy conversations. Congress responded by passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which allows some workers who are in quarantine, seeking a diagnosis or caring for a loved one to take time off from work without missing a paycheck, and allows eligible family caregivers to take paid leave for child care. Unfortunately, these provisions are only in effect through Dec. 31. In addition, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included money for small business loans that child care centers could use to temporarily stay afloat. But it isn’t nearly enough. 

As many as 106 million workers were left without emergency leave protections and it’s women and workers of color who are most likely to be affected. And without more support, child care providers that were already stretched pre-pandemic are on the verge of collapse —  it’s estimated that only 18 percent of child care programs will survive past the next year without financial support. It is time that Congress provides all workers with access to permanent paid leave and paid sick days so they can make it through this pandemic and the years ahead.

One step to ensuring the U.S. economy and families will recover from this crisis and thrive is guaranteeing paid leave and access to quality, affordable child care.

Erika L. Moritsugu is vice president for congressional relations and economic justice at the National Partnership for Women & Families. Avenel Joseph, Ph.D., is the vice president for policy for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

Tags Black and Brown communities CARES Act Child care coronavirus crisis COVID-19 economic crisis economic equality frontline workers low-income families Paid sick leave Paid time off

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