COVID bill would pay federal employees to stay home with kids

Coronavirus Puts a Spotlight on Paid Leave Policies

COVID bill would pay federal employees to stay home with kids

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health officials recommend that people who are sick with COVID-19 should stay home and that employers should consider implementing a telecommuting program when possible. Benefits such as sick leave and family leave can help employees follow these guidelines. However, the U.S.

does not have national standards on paid family or sick leave. Our current system is a patchwork of policies that are determined by employers, state and local laws, or negotiated through labor contracts. Offer rates vary between employers, the reasons for needing leave, and the employment status of their workers.

The lack of a national policy means some employees are forced to take unpaid leave, or come to work when they are ill. The lack of paid leave disproportionately impacts certain populations, including low-income persons, who are less ly to have access to these benefits, and could have public health consequences if people cannot afford to take time off.

Lack of paid leave also has a large impact on women, who take on the bulk of health care responsibilities for their family members and may have to miss work as a result.

While there have been previous congressional efforts to create a uniform national floor for paid leave, this issue has gained new urgency with efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19. Since the outbreak began in the U.S.

, the President has signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act as well as the C.A.R.E.S. Act.

These laws include the following emergency short-term paid sick leave benefits and longer-term paid family leave policies.

  • Employers with fewer than 500 employees and all public employers are required to provide up to two weeks of fully-paid sick leave (up to $5,110) for immediate use to workers unable to work due to their own quarantine or symptoms of coronavirus, and up to two-thirds of regular pay for two weeks (up to $2,000) for employees who are unable to work in order to care for someone in quarantine or whose child’s school or daycare is closed because of coronavirus.
  • Separately, employers with fewer than 500 employees and all public employers are required to provide paid family leave to workers who are unable to work because their child’s school or daycare has closed due to coronavirus in the amount of two-thirds of their regular pay (up to $10,000) for up to 12 weeks, after a 10-day unpaid waiting period.
  • The emergency paid family leave benefit only applies to employees covered by Title II of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); therefore, most federal employees are not eligible.
  • Neither emergency paid leave provision applies to employees of private businesses with 500 or more employees.
  • Health care workers, emergency responders, and certain federal employees in the Executive Branch may also be excluded from receiving these benefits.
  • Workers employed by a business with fewer than 50 employees may also be excluded from receiving these benefits if their reason for missing work is due to their child’s school or daycare closure.
  • Participating employers will receive advanceable quarterly tax credits to cover the costs of providing the new leave benefits.
  • All provisions take effect 15 days after enactment (April 1, 2020), do not provide for retroactive benefits, and expire December 31, 2020.

Access to paid sick leave benefits varies greatly between employees, employers, and regions

Sick leave benefits typically allow employees to miss work without losing pay when they or a family member has a short-term illness. There is no federal requirement that employers offer employees paid sick leave, but some employees, including federal government employees, have generally had access to paid sick leave through employee benefits packages.

Thirteen states plus D.C. and 22 cities and counties1 have passed laws requiring that eligible employees get paid time off to care for themselves or sick family members.

Another two states (ME and NV) require employers to provide general paid time off for workers to use as needed, including for sick leave (Figure 1).

These state and local laws, however, do not apply to all workers in these locations; small employers are sometimes exempt, and part-time workers and those who have worked for their employers for a short duration may not be eligible for these benefits.

Additionally, the duration, accrual rates, and circumstances under which paid sick leave may be taken vary by policy and state. Eight states’ and 11 localities’ requirements explicitly apply to public health emergencies, such as closure of a business or child’s school to protect public health.

In response to coronavirus, on March 17, 2020, New York state implemented a temporary emergency paid sick leave law for workers who are subject to coronavirus-related quarantine (or to care for their children subject to quarantine). Since then, another four states, plus D.C., and 14 localities2 have passed their own emergency paid sick leave laws, many aimed at closing the gaps in the federal FFCRA legislation.

Figure 1: State and Local Paid Sick Leave Laws, 2020​

Research suggests that paid sick leave can help stem the spread of illness by reducing presenteeism (going to work ill) in the workplace and the chance of sending sick children to school or daycare. Sick workers are more ly to stay home when they do not lose pay. Parents with paid sick leave benefits may be less ly to send sick children to school than parents without these benefits.

How many workers have paid sick leave?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, three in four (75%) of workers in private industry have access to at least some paid sick leave, as do approximately nine in ten (91%) state and local government workers.

However, there are wide disparities in access to paid sick leave (Table 1). Among private industry workers, rates of paid sick leave rise with wages, with about half (49%) of workers in the lowest wage quartile ($13.25/hour on average) having this benefit, compared to 92% in the highest quartile.

Less than half of part-time workers (45%) in private industry have paid sick leave, compared to 86% of full-time employees. The lower lihood of paid sick leave for part-time workers has a disproportionate impact on women, who are more ly than men to hold part-time jobs. Workers in certain industries are more ly to have paid sick leave than in others.

Union workers (88%) and workers are larger employers (88%) are more ly than non-union workers (74%) and workers at smaller employers (66%) to offer paid sick leave to their workers. Access to paid sick leave also varies by worker occupation.

For example, 95% of workers in management, business, and financial occupations have paid sick leave, compared to 57% of workers in construction, extraction, farming, fishing, and forestry occupations.

Among workers in private industry who have paid leave benefits, the average duration is seven days; however, one-quarter (25%) of workers have fewer than five days. For state and local government workers, the average is 11 days, and 9% have fewer than five days.

Table 1. Share of Private Industry and Government Workers with Access to Paid Sick Leave, 2020
Private IndustryState/Local Govt.
All Workers75%91%
Average Wage:
Lowest 25%49%79%
Second 25%80%96%
Third 25%87%97%
Highest 25%92%96%
Employer Size:


COVID Aid Bill Would Pay Federal Employees $1400 a Week if Kids Are School | Jon Miltimore

COVID bill would pay federal employees to stay home with kids

Purchasing influence and perks— 600 hours of paid leave—might sound crass or even seedy, but it's one of the primary purposes of labor unions.

With thousands of schools still closed or partially closed across the country, millions of American families are struggling to find work-life balance while educating their children at home.

One part of American society may be receiving their own special COVID-19 relief package, however.

In Forbes, Adam Andrzejewski writes that a provision in the $1.9 trillion House bill—“the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021”—would allow federal employees to make up to $1,400 a week without working.

Buried on pages 305-306 of the legislation, the provision creates a $570 million fund for disbursements to federal employees who are not working because they are caring for others because of the coronavirus.

“Among those eligible are those who are ‘unable to work’ because they are caring for school-aged children not physically in school full time due to Covid-19 precautions,” writes Andrzejewski, the CEO and founder of OpenTheBooks.

Under the legislation, full-time federal employees are eligible for 600 hours in paid leave through September, receiving up to $35 an hour.

“That’s 15 weeks for a 40-hour employee,” he writes.

If you're wondering how federal employees were able wangle a $570 million paid leave fund (on your dime!) into that House bill so they can stay home and get paid while junior does remote learning, look no further.

The union $$ went in the right direction.

— Jon Miltimore (@miltimore79) February 25, 2021

The Fine Print

In some ways it might seem perfectly reasonable to allow employees to be paid while staying home. The circumstances are unique, after all, and many of us can empathize with parents struggling to work while schools are closed.

There are serious problems with this proposal, however. First, the legislation doesn’t distinguish between a school that is closed and one that simply allows children to learn remotely. As a result, federal employees could simply choose to have their child learn remotely and be eligible for benefits.

“Even if a federal employee’s child could be in school five days a week, if the school ‘makes optional’ virtual or hybrid schooling, it appears the parent can keep the son or daughter at home and still qualify for paid-time off under the bill,” Andrzejewsk writes.

Second, the legislation places no restrictions on a child’s age.

“An open question is whether parents of college-aged children could take paid time off?” Andrzejewsk writes. “Certainly, some colleges are virtual and there is no definition of son or daughter in the bill and no age parameters.”

The biggest problem, however, is that this provision takes money from taxpayers and then hands it out to a specific constituency.

Wow. The BidenBucks bill pays federal employees up to 15 weeks of paid leave at $1400 per week if they have to stay home to virtual school kids.

You get $1400 once. They get it every week for 15 weeks. Swamp takes care of swamp.

— Phil Kerpen (@kerpen) February 25, 2021

Union Cronyism

Essentially, the $570 million is a special perk for a select segment of the US workforce: federal employees. According to the Congressional Research Service, there are roughly 2.1 million civilians in the federal workforce, many of whom are represented by labor unions.

The largest union representing federal workers is the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents some 700,000 federal and DC government workers. Then there is the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represent 110,000 and 150,000 government employees, respectively.

These organizations spent heavily on political causes in 2020. The AFGE alone spent $2.3 million in political contributions and $1.9 million in lobbying. The NTEU spent $760,000 and $1 million on contributions and lobbying, respectively. The political contributions flowed in the same direction (see below).

If you're wondering how federal employees were able wangle a $570 million paid leave fund (on your dime!) into that House bill so they can stay home and get paid while junior does remote learning, look no further.

The union $$ went in the right direction.

— Jon Miltimore (@miltimore79) February 25, 2021

Purchasing influence and perks— 600 hours of paid leave—might sound crass or even seedy, but it's one of the primary purposes of unions.

As the economist Hans F. Sennholz observed, governments and unions are essentially “allies in interventionism.” They seek to circumvent free markets to seize and consume the wealth of others through coercive means. And in exchange for votes and influence, unions are rewarded by the politicians with special privileges for their members.

“Labor unions deliver political votes to administrations that promise to be friendly and cooperative,” wrote Sennholz, a longtime teacher of economics and former FEE president. “The administrations in return create legal privileges and immunities for labor unions so that they may be more effective in their economic struggle.”

If you think that sounds a bit a quid pro quo, you’re not wrong. Unions have made it clear, even publicly, that they expect returns for all those dollars and door knocking.

“Those who would oppose, delay or derail this legislation, do not ask us—do not ask the labor movement—for a dollar or a door knock,” AFL-CIO union leader Richard Trumka warned lawmakers before a key House vote last year. “We won’t be coming.”

All workers job perks, of course. And here is nothing wrong with receiving perks from an employer. But they should pass the test of the free market—not be mandated by the government or subsidized by taxpayers.

The economist Percy L. Greaves Jr. once explained the difference between how unions operate compared to free markets.

“The free market operates according to the Golden Rule. The higher values one contributes to the marketplace, as valued by consumers, the more one receives in return,” wrote Greaves Jr., a longtime writer for US News and World Report. “Free market operations are always voluntary transactions by which all parties exchange something they have for something on which they place a higher value.”

Many parents would no doubt desire having 600 hours in paid leave to stay home while their children do virtual learning—especially since newly issued CDC guidelines would keep 90 percent of schools at least partially closed.

Few of us will have that option, however. Because the action doesn’t make economic sense. It only makes political sense. But that's what matters when Congress spends trillions of our money. FEE’s Brad Polumbo recently highlighted 10 provisions in the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that appear to be little more than “partisan kickbacks.”

Sadly, you can make this one number 11—and we’ve only just started looking.


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