Universal paid leave and affordable child care and housing would ease the pandemic’s economic strain and bring more women back into the workforce, a panel of working-class women told lawmakers at a hearing.
There are no suitable workplace protections in place for women dealing with deaths in the family, the rising costs of gas and groceries, and the growing wave of mental health issues among school-aged children, the women told the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday.
While the Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to give their workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, the current legislation falls short of helping working families that still must pay their bills and feed their families during a crisis, they said.
“I can’t get sick, I can’t get hurt, because if I do then I won’t be able to work,” said Tori Snyder, a small-business owner from Pittsburgh. “I never take a day off because doing so would leave money off the table.”
Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee questioned the panel of witnesses while concurrently throwing political shots across the aisle.
Conservative lawmakers doubted the efficacy of increased government spending as a solution to the matter.
“We’re often told that having a government-mandated paid family leave program will increase women in the workforce, but that’s not so clear,” said committee ranking member Kevin Brady (R-Texas). California’s Paid Family Leave Act, which requires a minimum of three days of paid sick leave per year, does nothing to increase the number of working women in a state that has “less women in the workforce than 20 other states in the country,” he said.
Ways and Means Republicans last year worked with their counterparts on the Labor and Education Committee to unveil the Protecting Worker Paychecks and Family Choice Act, Brady said in his prepared opening statement.
The draft bill would offer incentives to businesses to provide paid leave and focus on gaps in coverage, such as leave for low-wage workers. It also would leverage the $50 billion already allocated for child care by targeting those funds to states with higher child poverty rates, while preserving parent choice, according to a bill summary.
Democratic lawmakers disagreed that government intervention would be futile, and accused Republicans of ignoring the witness testimony and blaming the women for their own misfortunes.
“The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee paid leave,” said Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.). “It is unacceptable.”