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COVID-19 Exposes Need for Paid Family and Sick Leave in Colorado

At least 47% of private sector workers are currently excluded from accessing the emergency paid family and medical leave protections recently passed by Congress. (Pxhere)
At least 47% of private sector workers are currently excluded from accessing the emergency paid family and medical leave protections recently passed by Congress. (Pxhere)
March 26, 2020

DENVER -- Longtime advocates of paid family leave and sick days for all Colorado workers are hoping state lawmakers see the coronavirus pandemic as a wake-up call.

The vast majority of Coloradans don't have access to paid family or sick leave, making it hard for many workers to stay home if they, or someone in their family, has symptoms.

Kathy White, deputy director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute, says the COVID-19 crisis shows how critical paid leave is for workers, the overall economy and public health.

"There are always going to be times when people need to take time off work -- for themselves, to care for a loved one, to deal with a serious medical illness -- and now, we're seeing, even for a public health crisis," she states.

Congress recently passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which includes temporary paid leave provisions, but it excludes between 50% and 75% of private sector workers, including those who work for companies with 500 or more employees.

Critics of paid family leave argue that the costs could be too high for businesses operating on thin profit margins.

White was part of a task force charged with finding the best way to create a statewide paid family and medical leave program, but she says the recommendations it delivered in January were essentially rejected.

Instead of creating a broad, public insurance model where risk is spread out across the workforce -- much like unemployment insurance -- she says lawmakers are leaning toward a private, for-profit model.

"By all accounts, the private insurance model was more expensive than a social insurance model," she states. "When you have a social insurance model, there's no profit margin that needs to be made. Private insurers are always going to need to make a profit."

Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, people with disabilities who lose their principal caregiver to COVID-19 also won't be able to have family members use paid sick leave in order to provide care.

The U.S. is currently the only developed nation without a paid family leave policy for all workers.

Disclosure: Colorado Fiscal Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Census, Education, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO