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Mr. President, don’t compromise on paid sick leave for working families

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Rochester Child Care, where I’ve worked as family services coordinator for 11 years, sits on a residential street in a small town just up the Salmon Falls River from the New Hampshire coast. The parents who trust us with their toddlers, preschoolers and school-age kids want the enrichment we offer — but they need the economic lifeline we provide. For working-class families, decent, affordable child care is critical to staying on the job.

COVID-19 threatened all that. We needed to stay open. But doing so while keeping students, staff and families safe was daunting. Hard work and perseverance have helped us get through — but so has federal COVID-19 relief funding, some targeted for the child care sector and some to help us cover the costs of encouraging our employees to take paid sick days and paid family and medical leave when they need it.

Paid leave and paid sick days were included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that Congress passed in March, just a couple weeks after the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in New Hampshire. These programs offer small and mid-sized employers dollar-for-dollar reimbursement to provide employees up to two weeks of sick leave if they catch COVID-19, and similar leave to care for a family member dealing with the virus, as well as up to 10 weeks additional of family medical leave for virus-related family issues. 

Put simply, this has been a lifeline for our center. Out of 65 employees, 25 have taken COVID-19-related leave, for anywhere from a single day to the full 10 weeks of family leave. They have taken 540 hours of sick leave — hours spent getting better instead of working with a dangerous infection and made financially possible by federal support. 

Unfortunately, the paid sick days and paid leave programs that Congress passed in March expired at the end of 2020. President Biden has proposed reinstituting and expanding these programs and extending the reimbursement to employers through September.

Unfortunately, some in Congress have other ideas. A group of Republican senators who met with the president last week have proposed a much smaller COVID-19 relief package, one that fails to extend these important paid leave provisions. This smaller plan, they argue, should be the basis for negotiations to reach a bipartisan compromise on COVID-19 relief.

Such a compromise would leave centers such as ours, and families in our community, on their own. It would remove an important incentive for employers to offer sick leave to employees with COVID-19 infections or affected family members. The parents who send their children to our center — many of whom can’t afford to miss a day’s pay — will be more likely to work while ill. At a time when Congress should be working together to address the continued toll of the virus, a relief package that ignores paid sick and family leave would only increase that toll, economically and health-wise.

As a former elected official, I know compromise is essential to our democratic system. But supporting the health and financial well-being of working families should be a bipartisan priority. Any compromise that leaves small employers and working families without access to paid sick leave will lead to more struggling businesses, more suffering families, more infections, more hospitalizations, more lives lost.

In battleground states such as New Hampshire that delivered the White House to President Biden and Vice President Harris, women were critical to the electoral success of the administration. Women still bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities in our society and because of that women have suffered the greatest economic impacts from this pandemic. We know the value of action, and the cost of inaction, when it comes to supporting families in this crisis. We know that’s a cost paid in lost wages, struggling families, sickness and death.

That members of Congress even now, a year into this pandemic, would pretend we can address this pandemic without addressing paid sick and family leave — that’s just unacceptable. And it would be equally unacceptable for President Biden to bow to those in Congress who refuse to recognize the reality that paid sick and family leave are essential to fighting the pandemic.

Anne Grassie, a former member of the New Hampshire State House of Representatives, is family services coordinator at Rochester Child Care Center in Rochester, N.H. Follow her on Twitter @AnneGrasie.

Tags Child care COVID-19 pandemic family leave leave of absence Sick leave

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