In Focus: Paid Sick Days

Mar 15, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

DeLauro and Murray Push to Guarantee Paid Sick and Safe Days for Workers Nationwide

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

At a time when millions of Americans’ health insurance—and health—is imperiled by an attack on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), at least one bill introduced in Congress could have a positive impact on public health. Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Healthy Families Act (HFA), which would give all workers access to sick days. The bill has far-reaching implications for the health of the nation, ensuring that workers would no longer have to choose between keeping their jobs and maintaining their economic security, on the one hand, and caring for their family’s health, on the other.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 41 million workers—many of whom work in low-wage jobs—lack paid sick days. As a result, restaurant workers prepare food while sick, risking their own and their customers’ health. Sick children who are sent to school find their recovery from illness is delayed and their peers’ health is threatened. Business productivity goes down, while employee turnover goes up.

But the HFA would curb these senseless burdens on working families, employers, and the economy. Under the Healthy Families Act (HFA), people working at companies and organizations with at least 15 employees would be able to earn up to seven paid sick and safe days per year. The days could be used to obtain preventive care or seek treatment for a medical problem, to care for an ill family member, or to seek services related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Employees of smaller businesses would be able to earn the same number of unpaid but job-protected sick and safe days, meaning their employers could not fire them or otherwise retaliate for their use of the days.

HFA was reintroduced with its largest number of co-sponsors ever—31 in the Senate and 108 in the House.  This strong Congressional support mirrors the great momentum propelling the paid sick and safe days movement nationwide. Since 2006, seven states and over two dozen cities and counties have passed laws requiring employers to provide paid sick days. (Nearly two dozen of the jurisdictions include safe days provisions.) Further, thanks to the U.S. Department of Labor’s final rule codifying an executive order from former President Obama, all workers on federal contracts that have taken effect since January 1, 2017, now earn paid sick and safe days as well. This final rule alone will eventually affect about 1.15 million workers. The laws thus far have led to reduced spread of illness while helping businesses save money. HFA will build on the success of these state and local laws to improve the health and financial security of tens of millions more workers.

CLASP strongly supports the Healthy Families Act and urges Congress to act swiftly to pass this legislation. 

Mar 1, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

President Trump Wants to Help Working Families, But Which Families?

By Hannah Matthews and Liz Ben-Ishai

The United States is long overdue in embracing policies that would make it easier for working families to both do their jobs and care for their families. In his first speech to Congress, President Trump expressed his desire to make child care affordable and ensure new parents have access to paid family leave. Unfortunately, his campaign promises and proposals to-date do little to advance public policy in these areas and run counter to getting help to those who need it the most.

In the United States, just 14 percent of civilian workers have access to paid family leave to care for a new child or seriously ill family member—and only four percent of the lowest-income workers have access. While a growing number of states (now five) have passed paid family leave laws, workers in most of the country are often forced to choose between caring for their families and their economic security. Moreover, only about 60 percent of workers are eligible for unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the only federal leave law. But of those parents who are eligible for FMLA, fewer than 40 percent can afford to go without pay while taking leave. In addition, just 38 percent of workers have access to medical leave to address their own serious health issues.

Parents everywhere struggle to pay the high costs of child care but none more than the lowest-income earners. On average, low-income parents who pay for child care spend 30 percent of their household budget on child care expenses, compared to just 7 percent for higher-income families. The vast majority of low-income families—85 percent—who could qualify for federal child care assistance to help with the staggering costs of care get no help because state and federal governments have failed to invest sufficiently in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), our country’s primary child care assistance program. 

Trump’s plan would do little to address our policy failures for working families. In his address last night, Trump professed a desire to provide paid family leave for new parents. During his campaign, Trump proposed a plan that would offer too few weeks of leave and provide too little wage replacement to make the program viable for low-income families. It also left out other important caregiving and health needs of today’s working families; millions of workers need to be able to care for seriously ill family members (not just new babies) and recover from their own illnesses without risking their economic security. Trump also proposed a financing mechanism—relying on dollars from fraud in the unemployment insurance system—which would not only be insufficient to support the (already inadequate) proposal, but also raise numerous challenges for implementation.

Instead of this poorly designed approach, the president should support the recently introduced Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, a federal bill that proposes an inclusive policy modelled on successful state programs. It would enable workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, or recover from their own serious illness. The program would be funded with small contributions from employers and employees, using a social insurance model that is particularly appealing to small businesses.

Trump’s child care proposal is no less flawed. His plan—the bulk of which is a tax deduction proposal for child care expenses—is inherently regressive with the largest benefits going to wealthy families. (This is within the context of a tax reform agenda that would even further advantage the wealthy and corporations and reduce government revenue for funding critical programs and services.) Because most low-income parents do not earn enough to have federal tax liability, they would not benefit at all from this part of the plan. The proposal includes other tax savings mechanisms that also advantage the wealthy and are virtually unusable for low-income families. To address the child care needs of low-income families, Trump’s plan offers a child care “rebate” for low-income families. The rebate would cover just a small share of child care expenses, less than 8 percent, and the size of the benefit would pale in comparison to what higher-income families would receive from other components of the proposal. Moreover, a rebate will not help low-income families pay unaffordable child care bills upfront.

Trump’s plan falls far short of addressing the critical problems of child care affordability and quality.  Families need help affording child care. But paying for child care is only part of the problem. Tax strategies will do nothing to advance quality improvements necessary to ensure that children have access to enriching settings. Central to quality is the child care workforce, who despite the high costs of care, earn very low wages. The best way to help low- and moderate-income families and improve child care quality for all children is investing in CCDBG, which provides direct assistance to help families afford the high cost of child care. CCDBG also builds the quality of child care by providing funds to states for quality improvement activities, including monitoring compliance with critical health and safety standards, and for the training and professional development of child care and early childhood educators.

Investing in affordable child care and paid family and medical leave should be a national priority. Together, these critical supports for working families add up to a strategy that is good for children, families, employers, and our economy. Congress and the President should acknowledge the real challenges of working families and find solutions that help those most in need—and who have the most to gain.


Feb 7, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

FAMILY Act rides wave of momentum into Congress

By Liz Ben-Ishai

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act rides into Congress on an impressive wave of federal, state, local, and corporate momentum. The bill, which would create a national social insurance program enabling workers to take up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave to welcome a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, or recover from their own illnesses, was reintroduced today in the wake of the following developments:

  • Growing bipartisan interest in paid leave. For the first time, presidential candidates from both major parties included paid family leave in their policy platforms, indicating a growing awareness among politicians of the importance of this issue to voters. Indeed, in a poll immediately preceding the election, 82 percent of voters (including a majority of Republican voters) said it was important for the next president and Congress to consider laws that would create a paid family and medical leave insurance program and enable people to earn paid sick days. Moreover, more than three-quarters of voters support a national paid family and medical leave law, including two-thirds (66 percent) of Republicans.
  • FMLA celebrates 24 years of job protected leave—and 24 years of waiting to do better. The reintroduction of the FAMILY Act coincides with the 24th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the federal law that guarantees about 60 percent of workers access to job-protected but unpaid leave. The FMLA has helped millions of workers know their jobs are safe while they take leave. However, most workers can’t afford to go entirely without their pay. Just 38 percent of working adults are both eligible for and can afford to take unpaid leave under FMLA. Just 14 percent of civilian U.S. workers have access to paid family leave, and less than 40 percent have paid medical leave through disability programs provided by their employers.
  • A growing number of states have established paid family leave programs. In 2016, New York and the District of Columbia passed laws to establish paid family programs, joining existing state programs in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. The FAMILY Act would build on the knowledge and experience gained through these programs, which are similarly structured as insurance systems.
  • More and more major corporations are announcing new and expanded paid leave programs. A growing number of large corporations are announcing increasingly generous paid leave programs for their own employees. Indeed, even smaller companies are stepping up to create their own programs. Some companies are taking the lead to make paid leave a priority in their industries, such as in the creative and tech industries. And, signaling their understanding of changing demographics and the importance of inclusive policies, businesses are increasingly offering paid leave for mothers or even for both parents, along with allowing its use for other critical caregiving obligations. For example, in 2016, at least 10 major companies, including Exelon, Nike, Cargill, and Deloitte, announced paid leave programs that cover care for seriously ill family members in addition to parental leave. In addition, more and more companies, including Hilton and Ikea, are extending paid leave policies to cover hourly workers, in addition to salaried employees. 
  • Local governments are increasingly offering paid leave to their public employees. More than 40 municipalities and counties have established paid leave programs, acknowledging the importance of this policy for attracting and retaining top talent.
  • Americans’ desire for economic security and quality jobs is greater than ever. Many commentators attribute the recent election outcome to Americans’ continuing sense of economic instability and insecurity. Although the recovery has helped many get back to work and regain their footing, even those who are working are often struggling to get by in low-quality jobs. Having access to the critical workers supports, such as paid leave, is a crucial step towards helping more Americans achieve economic security. No one should fall into poverty or experience serious hardship because they need to take time away from work to care for others or themselves. Yet far too often, this is what happens when workers become seriously ill or their family members require care.

Congress and the American people are divided on many issues—there’s no denying it. But a vast majority agrees with the wisdom of supporting working families to care for themselves and for one another. Americans value work—and paid family and medical leave helps people get back to work when they are ready to be productive and make important contributions to their employers and our economy. It’s time for Congress to pass the FAMILY Act – the universal, inclusive, and economical solution to our nation’s paid leave problem. Let’s not celebrate another FMLA anniversary without having a paid leave program in place.

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