RICHMOND, Va. – President Joe Biden today is expected to announce his infrastructure stimulus plan to boost the pandemic recovery. In the coming weeks, it also will include a proposal for paid family leave.
Advocates for working families say the pandemic has underscored the need in states such as Virginia that have no state-level leave policy. Organizers of the Paid Leave for All campaign have said only 19% of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave. This has been devastating to essential workers in the pandemic, said campaign director Dawn Huckelbridge. She said she thinks the new stimulus aid offers a window to establish a national policy.
“We can’t come out of a pandemic, another pandemic, without making some structural changes,” she said, “and without honoring the people who really carried us through this — particularly the essential workers and front-line workers who continue going into work every day, at risk to their own health, often without the guarantee of a single paid day of leave.”
In Virginia, even unpaid leave isn’t an option for 55% of workers. But lawmakers against a paid-leave requirement say it could hurt small-business owners, and that these types of policies should be set by employers.
Vasu Reddy, senior policy counsel for the National Partnership for Women and Families, disagreed, saying the lack of paid leave is doing real harm to families across the country. In the last year, many Virginians have been caught between caregiving responsibilities and economic security. Reddy pointed out that many child-care facilities closed during the pandemic, leaving families in a bind.
“Those folks,” she said, “have been put in this impossible situation of figuring out, ‘What am I going to do, because I don’t have access to this really commonsense policy that would really help at this moment?'”
A study from her organization showed that 79% of voters in 2020 supported a permanent paid family and medical leave program. Virginia’s General Assembly is considering a bill to guarantee paid sick leave to essential employees, which Reddy said is a step forward.