On Feb. 1, 2021, U.S. Representatives Susan Wild and Dwight Evans held a telephone town hall discussing the need for comprehensive paid family and medical leave policies.
Wild and Evans, who represent Pennsylvania’s 7th and 3rd congressional districts, respectively, showed support and responded to audience experiences stemming from a lack of paid leave, including the situations it has put small businesses and disabled people in.
The town hall was hosted by the organizations MomsRising, the Paid Leave for All Campaign and The 99% Pennsylvania. In March 2020, paid leave was included in one of the COVID-19 relief packages but expired on Dec. 31, said Karen Showalter, the senior campaign director and Pennsylvania moms force director at MomsRising.
MomsRising is a nonprofit advocacy organization that addresses issues facing women in the workforce, including paid leave.
Showalter said the paid leave helped flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases.
“In places where workers had access to the limited emergency paid sick leave Congress passed last year, there were 15,000 fewer cases of COVID per day,” she said.
Both Evans and Wild support paid leave for medical or family purposes.
“Last year, we saw on a grand scale what happens when workers do not have access to paid sick leave,” Wild said. “COVID-19 spread throughout our factories, or nursing homes, or hospitals, amongst staff at meatpacking plants and throughout our communities at alarming rates.”
Currently, the Family Medical Leave Act allows employees to take job-protected time off for medical or family reasons, but is unpaid.
Showalter said the U.S. lags behind most other comparable nations when it comes to providing workers paid medical leave in various scenarios.
“The United States is one of only two industrialized nations that has no permanent federal paid leave program,” Showalter said.
Amy Edelman, one of the speakers at the town hall and a small business owner, said a few years ago one of her employees needed extended time off due to their newborn’s heart condition but as an employer, Edelman could not afford to provide paid leave despite efforts.
Edelman and her husband own and operate Night Kitchen Bakery & Cafe in Philadelphia. A federal paid leave program would have allowed the employee to get paid throughout their extended time off.
“No worker should have to choose between their paycheck and their health,” Wild said.
Karli Miller, a community member from Allentown, has also struggled with a lack of paid leave.
Miller said due to chronic conditions, she has to make frequent appointments that require a flexible schedule and she is unable to drive on her own. Her partner has had to take days off work to take her to her appointments. Miller said her partner had to quit their job due to the lack of flexibility and paid leave at the onset of COVID.
“Every single one of us will need it at one time or another here in COVID or beyond,” Showalter said. “We have a real opportunity right now to remind legislators this is an urgent priority for us.”
Community members also brought up a desire for mental health to be treated equally to physical illness in regard to paid leave.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act is the current legislative vehicle that could provide permanent paid family and medical leave.
“I really do believe that we will make real progress in the coming months in expanding paid leave,” Wild said. “I want you all to know that you will always have an ally in Washington (D.C.) on these family leave issues.”