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Paid Sick Leave Law is a Temporary Solution to a Permanent Problem in the U.S.

Patricia Stoddard Dare is a professor of social work at Cleveland State University and a researcher on the effects of paid sick leave policies on public health.
Patricia Stoddard Dare is a professor of social work at Cleveland State University and a researcher on the effects of paid sick leave policies on public health.

Congress has passed a coronavirus response package that includes paid sick leave for workers in mid-sized companies that don’t already provide it.

President Donald Trump has signed the measure into law.

It’s a temporary response to the COVID-19 crisis, but paid sick leave has long been of interest to Patricia Stoddard Dare, a professor of Social Work at Cleveland State University.

She recently spoke with WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair about why we need it now.

Patricia Stoddard Dare and I talked a couple of years ago about her research on paid sick leave, and back then, she was like a voice in the wilderness on the issues.

Now, due to the coronavirus outbreak, she's glad to see that lawmakers are recognizing the need for paid sick leave.

"I'm thrilled to see that paid sick leave is getting some attention, because I think it's such an important public health issue and it's so valuable for families," she says. "But the circumstances around it, of course, are really troubling."

Stoddard Dare's work has shown that the most vulnerable members of our population are the ones who are affected the most by the lack of a paid sick leave policy in the U.S.

"Those who are less educated, those who are working part time, those who are working in service professions," she says. 

"Hispanic individuals are definitely the most likely to not have paid sick leave, and of course, those who are lower income."

Stoddard Dare says the issue has come to the forefront now, "because we have to stop the transmission of the corona virus."

"We know that workers who don't have access to paid sick leave benefits are more likely to attend work when they're sick because they have no other alternative," she says.

Stoddard Dare says the public health benefits of paid sick leave are backed by research.

"We know from studying the H1N1 epidemic from 2009 that that lack of paid sick leave is directly related to an additional 1500 deaths in the United States," according to Stoddard Dare.

What is the new paid sick leave policy?

"The Families First Coronavirus Response Act grants two weeks of paid sick leave at 100% of a person's salary for up to $510 a day for workers who have to leave work," says Stoddard Dare.

"They don't have to prove that they have a coronavirus diagnosis in order to get the benefit," she says, "it would also cover those who are told to quarantine those who have symptoms, people who feel like they've been exposed to Covid-19, or people trying to get tested or who need preventative care."

What about part time and gig workers?

Stoddard Dare says the relief package also applies to part-time workers, who are even less likely to have paid sick leave benefits.

"They would be just like full-time workers where the businesses would be getting a tax credit," says Stoddard Dare.

She explains that normally employers pay a 6.2% Social Security tax for each employee, but under the new legislation, employers would be receiving a tax credit for those costs.

"And then if the amount that employers pay to the employee for either paid sick leave or family medical leavet exceeds that amount, then the government will cover the difference for those businesses."

She says gig workers, under the new legislation, would be eligible for a tax credit to pay up to two weeks of paid leave, "and then would be eligible to apply for a rebate if the cost of paid sick leave or the family medical leave exceeds the amount of income taxes that they owe."

The new policy targets mid-size companies

The new law targets relief for workers in companies with between 50 and 500 employees. It does not apply to large companies, whose workers are more likely to recieve paid sick leave benefits. And small companies with under 50 employees can apply for a waiver from the mandate.

But Stoddard Dare says a significant number of large companies still don't offer paid sick leave.

She says 89% of these workers are covered by paid sick leave, and she regonizes that the government did not want to be in a position of subsidizing the benefit for those workers.

"But," she says, "that still leaves 11% of workers who work for a company that has over 500 employees without that benefit, and that's a concern."

"It's those 7 million workers who who aren't going to have coverage," says Stoddard Dare.

A turning point for American workers?

The United States is the only developed county that does not mandate paid sick leave for workers. The newly passed law expires at the end of this year.  A permanent paid sick leave policy may be a tough sell, for example, lawmakers in Ohio have actively moved to block cities from offering the benefit.

But Stoddard Dare believes the response to the coronavirus outbreak may mark a turning point in U.S. policy.

"The evidence that paid sick leave is good for business is very compelling," she says. "It's good for families, and it's good for public health."

"I think that in this moment, people are going to have access to it, and those who haven't had it are going to realize what they've been missing," she says, "and as a society we're going to see the tremendous benefit of paid sick leave."

"I absolutely think that the tide is shifting right now," says Stoddard Dare.

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