Last week, US Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) reintroduced the Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn one hour of job-protected sick time for each 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours (seven 8-hour days) per year.
DeLauro has been introducing this bill in every Congress since 2004, and Murray has been an original co-sponsor since then. What’s new this time around, though, is that the legislation has the president’s explicit support. Last month, President Obama urged Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act; he also included a President’s Budget item to fund state efforts to create paid medical and family leave programs, and took steps in support of paid parental leave for federal employees.
As Liz Ben-Ishai of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) notes in a blog post, February 12th wasn’t just the date of the Healthy Families Act’s reintroduction; it was also the day when Philadelphia became the 21st jurisdiction to pass a law letting workers earn paid sick time. Given that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed paid-sick-days bills twice before finally signing this one, it seems that the movement to prevent workers from having to choose between their health and their jobs may have reached a tipping point.
The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Tricia L. Nadolny reports of Mayor Nutter’s reversal, “Asked if he regretted vetoing similar legislation in 2011 and 2013, Nutter said he never opposed sick leave but could not support the measure during the economic recession.” Many opponents of paid-leave laws cite economic concerns, but it’s important to note that the lack of paid sick days in most US cities and states disproportionately harms low-income workers. Wages Lost, Jobs at Risk, a new policy brief from CLASP, summarizes some of the impacts:
- A majority of low-income mothers lose wages when they must care for a sick child. Two-thirds of women with family incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and three-quarters of women living below the poverty line do not get paid when they need to miss work to care for a sick child.
- Parents worry about losing pay to care for a sick child. One-third of parents with young children are concerned about losing pay when they need to care for their sick children; nearly two-thirds said their children could not attend child care because of illness in the past year.
- For single parents, lost wages quickly wreak havoc. Assuming she earns the average wage for workers without paid sick time, a single working parent of two children cannot miss more than three days of work in a month without falling below the federal poverty line.
- Many low-wage workers, especially mothers, lose their jobs due to lack of paid sick days. One in seven low-wage workers reports losing a job in the past four years because they were sick or needed to care for a family member.9 Almost one in five low-wage working mothers has lost a job due to sickness or caring for a family member.
Public health also suffers when workers have to drag themselves to their jobs while sick, or send sick children to school, because they can’t afford the resulting loss of pay. The American Public Health Association supports the Healthy Families Act and has adopted a policy position calling on Congress to pass legislation that would expand paid medical and family leave for U.S. workers. Legislation fitting that description has (once again) been introduced in Congress, and advocates for public health and low-income families will be watching their members carefully to see whether they support it.