Gillibrand calls on Biden to ‘extend and expand’ emergency paid leave provisions

Earlier this month, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA), top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and U.S. Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) sent a letter urging the incoming Biden administration and congressional leadership to extend and expand the COVID-19 emergency paid leave provisions that expired at the end of last year. The bipartisan paid leave sick day and family leave provisions passed under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) are critical to the public health response and economic recovery. Despite excluding many workers, previous provisions gave an estimated 22 million workers nationwide the ability to stay home when sick, helping to slow the spread of coronavirus. The provisions also prevented workers from having to choose between their paycheck or their health when they needed to stay home to care for themselves or a loved one. As coronavirus cases continue to surge across the country, Gillibrand, Murray, DeLauro, and Pressley are fighting to include emergency paid leave provisions in the next coronavirus relief package that would close previous loopholes that left out millions of workers and provide all employees with 14 emergency paid sick days and 12 weeks emergency paid family and medical leave.

“As your incoming administration and Congress outline new plans to fully respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis, we urge you to reinstate the emergency COVID paid leave that expired at the end of last year,” wrote the lawmakers. “The United States is among the few developed countries that do not have a national paid sick days and paid family and medical leave policy. Over eight in ten working Americans lack access to comprehensive paid leave. The dire effects have never been more pronounced than they are now. We need people who are sick to be able to afford to stay home in order to curb the spread of the virus, and to keep their jobs to stem the tide of job loss.”

The lawmakers continued, The success of the emergency paid leave program can easily be increased in scale by closing the loopholes – including those for the largest corporations in the world – that left 75% of workers unable to access emergency leave. If we don’t extend emergency paid leave to all workers and towards a permanent national paid leave program, even more working parents will be forced, once again, to make impossible choices between caring for their family and earning a paycheck.”

Recent data on job loss revealed that employers cut 140,000 jobs in December — and each of those jobs lost belonged to a woman. In particular, Black women and Latinas lost their jobs, while White women made significant gains. These women of color not only work in some of the hardest hit sectors of our economy, they are also more likely to be employed in roles that lack paid sick leave and the ability to work from home. Without emergency paid sick leave, more women of color are at risk of losing their livelihoods.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

Mr. President-Elect, Leader Schumer, and Speaker Pelosi:

As your incoming administration and Congress outline new plans to fully respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis, we urge you to reinstate the emergency COVID paid leave that expired at the end of last year. The United States is among the few developed countries that do not have a national paid sick days and paid family and medical leave policy. Over eight in ten working Americans lack access to comprehensive paid leave. The dire effects have never been more pronounced than they are now. We need people who are sick to be able to afford to stay home in order to curb the spread of the virus, and to keep their jobs to stem the tide of job loss.

New data on job losses released on Friday revealed that employers cut 140,000 jobs in December. Every single job lost belonged to a woman. Men, comparatively, gained 16,000 jobs. A separate survey of households gives us more painful insight into these figures. It was Black women and Latinas who lost their jobs; white women made significant gains.

Women of color not only work in some of the hardest hit sectors of our economy, they are more likely to be employed in roles that lack paid sick leave and the ability to work from home. Without emergency paid sick leave, even more women of color could lose their livelihoods. Those losses would come on top of the staggering job losses women have suffered throughout the pandemic. By the end of the year, 5.4 million fewer women were working than were February.

A report from the Center for American Progress estimates that “the risk of mothers leaving the labor force and reducing work hours in order to assume caretaking responsibilities amounts to $64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity.” As a nation, we fundamentally and financially cannot afford for any more women to exit the economy. Any serious attempt at economic recovery will need to include emergency paid leave to help working women keep their jobs and provide unemployed women a way to rejoin the economy while balancing the demands of work and family.

We fought to create the national emergency paid leave program with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act because we knew paid leave would be critical to addressing both the health and economic crises COVID has created. It passed in March with bipartisan support and, while it provided just a start at fixing this problem, the results were immediate.

It gave 22 million workers nationwide the ability to stay home when they were sick. That’s a public health necessity when combating an infectious disease like the coronavirus, and it made a huge difference. A recent study in Health Affairs found that the introduction of the paid leave provisions helped reduce COVID infections by about 15 thousand cases per day. As we face a new highly infectious strain of COVID and rising case numbers, we must recognize that this is not the moment to abandon a plan that keeps working people safe.

The success of the emergency paid leave program can easily be increased in scale by closing the loopholes – including those for the largest corporations in the world – that left 75% of workers unable to access emergency leave. If we don’t extend emergency paid leave to all workers and move towards a permanent national paid leave program, even more working parents will be forced, once again, to make impossible choices between caring for their family and earning a paycheck.

We must take bold and aggressive steps to address the health and economic crises we are facing. Extending emergency paid leave is a step that will allow us to address both crises at once. We look forward to working with you to ensure it is included in the next coronavirus response legislative package.

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