More Americans may soon be able to take more than three months of paid leave from work for sickness or to care for children and family members during the pandemic, if Congress approves a plan proposed by President-elect Biden.
Last spring, the first coronavirus relief package included paid leave. But a limited group of workers was eligible, and it expired in December. Now, as part of a wide-ranging plan to respond to the pandemic, the incoming administration has proposed reinstating and significantly expanding it.
What kind of reasons can it be used for?
Mr. Biden proposed offering paid leave to people who are:
Sick with Covid-19 symptoms
Quarantining because of Covid-19 exposure
Needing time off to get the vaccine
Caring for family members who are sick with Covid-19 symptoms
Caring for children whose school or day care center is closed because of the pandemic
Caring for older relatives or adult dependents whose long-term care facility is closed because of the pandemic
Who would qualify?
Nearly all American workers, both part-time and full-time. Analysts said the plan would cover 106 million more workers than last year’s paid leave plan, which excluded those at companies with more than 500 employees; many of those at companies with fewer than 50 employees; and some health care and government workers. These groups would now be covered. So would self-employed and gig economy workers — they would probably receive tax credits based on their typical pay.
Why does paid leave matter right now?
Paid leave expired just as the pandemic became even harder on American workers. Record numbers of people are becoming infected with Covid-19, and many schools and child care centers remain closed.
How much would the leave pay and how long could it last?
If the Biden plan were to pass, it would replace workers’ wages up to $1,400 a week, or $280 a day. That means that people who earn up to $73,000 a year — three-quarters of American workers — would be reimbursed in full during their leaves. (Last year’s relief package paid more for sick leave, up to $511 a day, but limited it to two weeks. It paid $200 a day for family caregiving leave.)
Mr. Biden proposed giving people 14 weeks or more of paid leave, depending on the situation.
How will businesses afford to give workers leave?
Employers with fewer than 500 workers would be reimbursed for the full amount of the leave, in the form of a payroll tax credit. It would be refundable, as it was last year, meaning that if the amount that employers pay is larger than what they owe in taxes, the government will send them a check for the difference. It would work the same way for self-employed people.
Large companies, which were not required to give paid leave last year, would be required to do so and to pay for it themselves. As of now, just one quarter of companies with more than 500 employees provide some sort of family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it doesn’t always apply to the current situation, when schools or nursing homes are closed. Nine in 10 provide paid sick leave, but rarely for several weeks.
Google, for example, is one of the rare companies already providing the type of leave that Mr. Biden is proposing. Before the pandemic, it offered six weeks of paid leave for any caregiving reasons that arose, an unusual benefit in corporate America, and expanded it to 14 weeks during the pandemic.
How likely is it that paid leave will become law?
The plan that Mr. Biden presented Thursday was part of a wide-ranging, $1.9 trillion relief package that Congress would need to approve. Paid leave is likely to have support; Democrats will control Congress and they largely supported a broader paid leave plan than was passed the first time, but lawmakers would need to agree on the details.
Who is eligible for paid leave right now?
Since the expiration of last year’s paid leave, it now depends what a worker’s employer or state offers. Residents of 15 states and about eight in 10 employees over all have paid sick leave. But the period of leave is often several days, not weeks, and low-income, Black and Latino workers are less likely to have it.
Also, under a 1993 law, workers are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave, but roughly half of workers don’t qualify (for example, if they have worked at their employer for less than a year, or if the company has fewer than 50 people).
Will paid leave become permanent?
Under the Biden plan, the new paid leave would expire at the end of September. But proponents of the policy say the pandemic has demonstrated the need for paid leave even in ordinary times. The more workers get used to having it, and the more businesses see that it’s feasible, the higher the likelihood of broad support for making it permanent, they say. Democrats have already introduced legislation to do so, and Mr. Biden has said he supports the idea.
Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said Thursday: “This policy is a big part of what workers need during these tough months, and it will serve as a strong foundation to finally establish permanent policies on paid sick days and paid family and medical leave.”