By Mark Richardson
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the lack of a paid family-leave system has had devastating consequences for families, public health and the economy in Arizona and across the United States, which is one of the few countries without a national paid-leave policy.
Advocates say the pandemic has exposed the current system as inequitable, inefficient and unsustainable, especially for people of color.
Stephanie Maldonado, membership coordinator at Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), said it often means workers faced with a family medical emergency or an infant needing care are forced to make difficult choices.
“Right now, families are constantly having to make a decision,” Maldonado explained. “Whether ‘Do I go to work, so I can make sure my check is complete and pay my bills?’ or ‘Do I take the day off to take care of myself, to take care of my child, or my wife, or whoever it may be?'”
President Joe Biden publicly recently outlined his multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, aimed at rebuilding the country’s roads, bridges and utilities.
“Right now, families are constantly having to make a decision. Whether ‘Do I go to work, so I can make sure my check is complete and pay my bills?’ or ‘Do I take the day off to take care of myself, to take care of my child, or my wife, or whoever it may be?'”
Stephanie Maldonado, LUCHA
A group of more than 400 organizations led by Paid Leave for All also is urging Biden to include paid family leave in his American Family Plan, touted as his “human infrastructure” program.
Dawn Huckelbridge, director of the Paid Leave for All campaign, pointed out when the pandemic began, one of the first things Congress did was pass a temporary paid-leave program.
She said now, Congress needs to go further in the next big economic and infrastructure package.
“We must include a comprehensive and permanent federal paid-leave policy to rebuild the care infrastructure in this country, and to have an equitable economic recovery,” Huckelbridge urged.
Twelve states already have passed family- and medical-leave legislation based on similar models that require no employer contribution.
But Maldonado noted the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature shows little interest in passing a similar measure.
“Here in Arizona, organizations like LUCHA presented a Paid Family Medical Leave bill,” Maldonado remarked. “However, it was not heard in committee, it was not considered in committee and, unfortunately, it didn’t get anywhere.”
Maldonado added a federal plan is needed to ensure fair treatment for workers in states such as Arizona.
Nationwide, polls show an overwhelming majority of voters, including 86% of Republicans, say all workers should have access to emergency paid sick, family and medical leave.
Mark Richardson is a Producer with Public News Service.
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