What the Public Is Saying to Congress: Expand Paid Sick Days and Paid Family and Medical Leave to All

U.S. public opinion is clear: Congress must fill critical and even deadly gaps left in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act enacted last month, which provides emergency paid sick days and limited paid family leave to some workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Coverage should be universal, according to voters — but federal law falls far short. Under the Families First emergency legislation, about half the workforce is carved out. These are about 60 million workers who are employed by companies with 500 or more employees, including many of the workers who are currently on the front lines of grocery stores and pharmacies, retail stores and warehouses. In addition, employers can deny as many as 13 million people in health care jobs and emergency responder jobs the paid sick days and paid family leave they should receive. There are also possible exemptions for small businesses seeking to deny parents access to paid leave to care for a child whose school or child care is closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Data for Progress chart showing overwhelming support for universal paid sick days and paid family and medical leave (March 27–28, 2020)

uper-majorities of the public believe these gaps should be filled. A new memo reviews polling conducted between March 5 and April 5, 2020 shows that, although nearly three-quarters of the public supported the initial legislation, higher shares believe the law should go further — and public support is swelling and becoming more bipartisan as the crisis worsens.

For example:

  • Immediately after the emergency sick days law passed, Lean In and Survey Monkey found that more than seven in ten adults said grocery workers, pharmacy workers, child care workers, health care workers and emergency responders should be included in federally-mandated paid sick days coverage.
  • Immediately after the law’s passage, Lean In and Survey Monkey also found that 79 percent of adults who supported the law said it should have gone further; 75 percent who opposed it said it did not go far enough.
  • By late March, Data for Progress found that 87 percent of voters, including 91 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Republicans, said all workers should have access to emergency paid sick and family leave — essentially the same share as said that evictions, foreclosures and utilities shut offs should be halted during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • In early April, polling commissioned by Center for Science in the Public Interest found that more than nine in ten adults said it is important for grocery workers to have access to paid sick days to slow the spread of COVID, protect themselves, and help consumers feel safe.

Expanding the legislation isn’t just good policy, it’s also good politics, according to the Lean In and Survey Monkey. By an overwhelming 62 percentage point margin, people — Democrats (+78 point margin) and Republicans (+51 point margin) — said they would be more likely to vote for their member of Congress or U.S. Senator if that elected official voted to ensure all workers have access to paid sick days during the pandemic.

Support for permanent solutions is also strong and growing. Voters’ support for a national paid family and medical leave program paid for through small employer and employee payroll taxes grew from the beginning to the end of March, according to a University of Maryland study — from 61 percent support to 67 percent support — driven largely by increased Republican voter favorability.

A memo summarizing the results of five national studies and providing more details about the studies themselves is here.

For people living each day in the new coronavirus world, paid sick days and paid leave are not ideological issues. Congress should stop playing favorites and catch up to the public in embracing paid leave for all.

Get the full memo here: https://newamericadotorg.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/FINAL_-_Shabo_-_Interested_Parties_Memo_on_COVID_Polling_-_April_10_2020.pdf

Tenacious optimist fighting for an equitable and family friendly America. Senior Fellow at New America. Views are my own. Twitter: @vshabo

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