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Vermont: on its way to becoming the fourth state to adopt paid sick leave bill

By Elyce Nollette, Public Policy Associate

There is a lot celebrate in Vermont with a 76-to-66 vote in the state House of Representatives on its paid sick days bill!

Although there is more work to be done, this sets a strong precedent for paid sick days for its workers. Currently, the state lacks a law requiring employers to provide their employees paid or unpaid sick leave. Through this bill, employers would be required to provide at least 3 paid sick days to their employees. Should statewide paid sick day provisions be adopted in its Senate, Vermont would become the fourth state to do so, joining the ranks of California, Massachusetts and Connecticut as paid sick and family leave trendsetters in the United States.

Every worker deserves the right to take time off in order to take care of their own health and the health of their loved ones without fear of losing wages or face disciplinary action. Yet, the fear and anxiety of having to choose is a reality more than 11 million workers must face each day. While there is a federal piece of legislation (called the FAMILY Act or the Healthy Families Act), which would establish paid sick and family leave standards throughout the United States and provide additional protections for American workers regardless of where they live, efforts to pass the bill through Congress and get it to the President’s desk have been stalled.

In the meantime, states like California, Massachusetts and Connecticut, took it upon themselves to pass their own state legislation because they understand the importance of paid sick leave and paid family leave as an integral part of the health and well-being of their residents. Now Vermont is one step closer to joining this elite group of states. We congratulate Vermont for another step in the right direction, and all those who are fiercely advocating for paid sick and family leave in the state and throughout the country.

Take Action

Contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives to voice your support for the Healthy Families Act.

The Time for the FAMILY Act is Now

By Elyce Nollette, Public Policy Associate

Every day, 11% of our workforce shows to up work hoping to not get sick. 

These workers probably also hope their children, parents, and dependents don’t get sick as well. That is the daily reality of American workers who do not have access to paid sick or family leave.

For many parents, having a job and having a family are mutually exclusive. If they need to take care of a family member or themselves, they could lose wages, face disciplinary action, or even worse, get fired. All Americans, including diverse Americans, want to have strong families— be there for their children and parents when they need them most. They also want to have the resources and support to be successful in their jobs. However, many often find themselves forcing to choose one over the other because the alternative doesn’t solve their need. Millions of workers who are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act don’t take it, or use it sparingly— despite the job protection safeguards— mostly because it is still unpaid leave, wages that working parents simply can’t afford to lose.

Such decisions weaken our country, and wreak havoc among diverse families who tend to live in intergenerational households and rely on informal caregiving to take care of each other.

On election night last year, several paid sick leave initiatives were ushered in with ample margins in the state of Massachusetts, and the cities of Oakland, CA, Montclair, NJ and Trenton, NJ. While these were significant wins, there are still millions of workers in other states who deserve the same access. The good news is we can change this though through the FAMILY Act, also known as the Healthy Families Act. The bill creates a national paid family and medical leave program, which was recently re-introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CN). The bill is based on already successful and effective state paid leave laws and would reduce economic inequality and improve economic opportunities for all Americans, while simultaneously help hardworking women and men meet their caregiving needs.

The FAMILY Act is a game changer for Latinos and other diverse communities.

  • According to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, an additional 5.6 million Latino workers would have access to paid sick leave under the Healthy Families Act, equating to a 78% employee coverage increase.
  • Paid sick and family leave helps to increase worker productivity, promote preventive care, and decrease the spread of contagious illnesses and diseases, which in turn has a positive effect on the economy.

The FAMILY Act has gotten off to a slow start, but together we can change this. 

The bill was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce, as well as the Committees on House Administration, and Oversight and Government Reform, and needs to be voted on so it can then have a chance at a vote on the House and Senate floors. The only way action will be taken to move the Healthy Families Act and make it a reality for all working Americans is by speaking up and taking action. The best way to encourage the committee to act is by emailing and calling the Committee on Education and the Workforce, as well as reaching out to its members individually so they know that diverse communities want and need this important piece of legislation.

Looking Toward the “Fourth Quarter”

By Dr. Yanira Cruz

Tonight President Obama will lay out his fourth quarter plan for his last two years in the White House. Over the last few weeks, he has shared a couple of “SOTU spoilers,” traveling the country to discuss different aspects of what he will present in tonight’s speech.

On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Hispanic older adults, families, and caregivers we represent, here are a couple of areas we would like to see the President prioritize over the next two years.

1. Work with Congress to protect low-income Medicare beneficiaries.

The Medicare Qualified Individual program, which pays for low-income seniors’ Medicare Part B premiums, has been temporarily extended until March 31, 2015. Congress should make this program permanent and provide funding to help low-income seniors, particularly Hispanic older adults, gain access to the Qualified Individual program and other Medicare benefits as those who are elegible are most likely not to receive it.

Medicare fraud is also a pervasive issue among Latino seniors. They are systematically targeted due to the multiple barriers that keep them from accessing and understanding their benefits and rights as Medicare beneficiares. Congress should ensure that proper funding be secured to conduct culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach and education to this vulnerable, hard-to-reach population.

2. Urge Congress to strengthen and reauthorize the Older Americans Act.

The Older Americans Act is long overdue for reauthorization, and needs to be modernized to better serve the needs of the growing and diverse older adult population it serves, particularly low-income seniors who are struggling to make ends meet. The programs of the OAA are also extremely important in allowing older adults to age in dignity and the best possible health as it authorizes a wide variety of programs focused on health, nutrition, caregiver support, job training, and more.

3. Urge Congress to pass the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2014.

The bill would provide some sorely needed updates to this long-neglected program which provides subsistence level income for over 8 million older Americans and people with disabilities. A majority of those who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are women, including two-thirds of those who receive SSI on the basis of age. Revising the current SSI program to match 2014 cost of living standards and expenses is not only common-sense, but critical to the success, health, and well-being of all seniors, and especially those in the Hispanic community.

4. Provide increased subsidized housing opportunities for Hispanic older adults and low-income seniors.

The Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Section 202 Program helps to expand the supply of affordable housing with supportive services for older adults.  It provides very low-income older adults with options that allow them to live independently but in an environment that provides support activities such as cleaning, cooking, and transportation. Additionally, the building and housing units have railings and other features which make them easily accessible for older adults. Many Hispanic older adults live in subsidized housing, but the wait lists are long, and many wait years before qualifying. Increased funding for these housing programs is needed to reduce the wait periods and allow more Hispanic older adults and low-income seniors to have a safe and affordable place to live.

5. Take action so more working families have access to family and medical paid leave.

Currently, the United States is lagging behind other developed countries on paid family and medical leave policies: it is the only developed nation that doesn’t require employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave. According to the White House, it is estimated that 43 million private-sector workers in the United States do not have access to any form of paid sick leave. We applaud President Obama’s announcement last week, which included a call to Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, but there is more to be done to ensure that all working American families have access to the time off they need to take care of themselves or a family member.

NHCOA will be live tweeting tonight during the State of the Union, which starts at 9 pm ET. For live streaming and more information about tonight’s speech, visit wh.gov/SOTU.

What I am thankful for on MLK Day

Washington, DC NHCOA Leaders class of 2012

By Dr. Yanira Cruz

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day to remember Dr. King’s legacy through acts of service. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people are participating in a wide range of projects that strengthen communities, promote leadership, and provide solutions to social issues. As we strive to achieve the democracy and social justice Dr. King envisioned for our country, MLK Day serves a reminder that servant leadership and volunteerism lie at the heart of who we are: a society that believes in giving back, sharing the best of our talents, and empowering others to be the best they can be.

Service and volunteerism at the core of our Hispanic Aging Network, a growing group of individuals, groups, and organizations that carry out our mission of improving the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers, in different areas of the county. The commitment and dedication of this intergenerational, multicultural, and bilingual network is the lifeblood that enhances and inspires our work in Washington and in the field. Their volunteerism helps to:

Today I would like to offer my gratitude to those who share the best of themselves—not only on MLK Day, but every day of the year— to improve the lives of others who need encouragement, support, and aide.

¡Muchas gracias!

It’s Time to Lead on Leave

hispanic_family4President Obama has made a significant announcement in favor of millions of U.S. workers and families when he urged Congress to take up and pass the Healthy Families Act championed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), which would provide working Americans with up to a week of paid leave per year. He also presented a series of proposals to increase access to paid family and medical leave for working families across the country.

According to White House estimates, 43 million Americans in the private sector do not have any form of paid leave.

“That means that no matter how sick they are, or how sick a family member is, they may find themselves having to choose to be able to buy groceries or pay the rent, or look after themselves or their children,” President Obama explained on the White House website. Yesterday’s announcements, which includes the call to Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, build on the steps resulting from the White House Families Summit in June 2014:

  • President Obama called on cities and states to pass legislation while Congress considers the Healthy Families Act to ensure workers have access to paid sick leave.
  • He also proposed $2 billion in new funds to encourage states to develop paid family and medical leave programs.
  • President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum directing agencies to advance up to six weeks of paid sick leave for parents with a new child.

In a statement, NHCOA President and CEO Dr. Yanira Cruz said: “NHCOA has supported, and will continue to support the Healthy Families Act, as well as other legislation that helps working families and our economy, such as the Family Act. Therefore, we applaud President Obama’s announcement and join him in urging Congress to ‘lead on leave’ by making paid family and medical leave a reality for all working Americans.”

NHCOA is a staunch advocate for paid sick days and will continue to work alongside groups National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) as well as Family Values @ Work (FV@W) to ensure that the voices of American workers who would benefit greatly from similar legislation, are heard.

Read a detailed fact sheets of President Obamas proposals to strengthen working families and watch his remarks.

 

 

 

 

NHCOA Commends President Obama for Urging Congress to Adopt the Healthy Families Act

hispanic_family4

The National Hispanic Council on Aging the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers applauded President Obama yesterday for urging Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which will allow working Americans to accrue up to a week of paid sick leave each year to take care of themselves or a sick family member, get preventive care or address the impacts of domestic violence.

“An estimated 43 million Americans check in and out of their jobs, day in and day out, yet they do not have paid sick leave. This includes Latino and Latina workers who cannot afford to get sick because they are the breadwinners and the caretakers in their households,” said Dr. Yanira Cruz, NHCOA President and CEO.

“These workers are constantly faced with the dilemma of having to choose their job over their health, or the health of their family members. The Health Families Act, championed by Representative Rosa DeLauro and Senator Patty Murray, would make it possible for workers to take time off when they or their loved ones are sick without having to worry about losing wages, or worse, their jobs.”

While Congress considers the Healthy Families Act, President Obama also called on states and cities, such as California and Paterson, NJ, to pass similar laws. In addition, he proposed more than $2 billion to develop paid family and medical leave programs, and signed a Presidential Memorandum directing agencies to allow for the advance of six weeks of paid sick leave for parents with a new child, employees caring for ill family members, and other sick leave-eligible uses.

Currently, the United States is lagging behind other developed countries on paid family and medical leave policies: it is the only developed nation that doesn’t require employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave. According to the White House, it is estimated that 43 million private-sector workers in the United States do not have access to any form of paid sick leave.

“NHCOA has supported, and will continue to support the Healthy Families Act, as well as other legislation that helps working families and our economy, such as the Family Act. Therefore, we join President Obama in urging Congress to ‘lead on leave’ by making paid family and medical leave a reality for all working Americans,” said Dr. Cruz.

 # # #

Click here to read FACT SHEET: White House Unveils New Steps to Strengthen Working Families Across America

Watch President Obama’s remarks

 

Paid sick leave wins in California and Paterson, NJ

By Dr. Yanira Cruz

On September 9, 2014, Paterson, NJ became the 11th city in the United States, and the 5th in New Jersey, to pass paid sick days (PSD) legislation through a city council ordinance. According to New Jersey Working Families, a nonprofit group that’s part of a coalition of organizations pushing for sick time laws around the state, “more than 4,000 Patersonians signed petitions supporting the initiative.”

The law neither applies to government entities nor to employers that have union contracts in place with their workers. Under this ordinance, employees would be allowed to accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they work. The workers would be allowed to carry sick days from one year to the next, but they would not be able to cash in unused sick days, according to proponents of the initiative.

Similarly, on August 30, 2014, California joined Connecticut as the second state requiring most California employers to provide a minimum of three paid sick days to their workers each year.

Although it excludes in-home care workers, this law, which was signed into law today, September 10, 2014, will cover an estimated 6 million workers, or 40% of California’s workforce.

The fight for paid sick days has gained incredible momentum in recent years, especially in the past year, all thanks to local and state advocacy groups such as National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) as well as Family Values @ Work (FV@W).

According to PSD advocates, “workers who do not have access to paid sick days are one-and-a-half times more likely to go to work sick with a contagious illness, putting their co-workers and customers at risk, and costing an estimated $160 billion each year in lost productivity. Delaying treatment for illness can cause conditions to worsen, leading to more emergency room visits and increased costs for public health insurance programs.”

To date, the United States is the only nation in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave and one of a few that does not uniformly require some form of paid sick days.

Despite the introduction of federal legislation, Congress has been slow to act. As a result, states and cities around the United States have taken it upon themselves to pass piece-meal legislation in hopes of creating national discourse and momentum that will force Congress to act and provide a consistent solution to this issue. Given the various victories in the past year, and especially in the past few months, it is clear that this movement is gaining steam and it will hopefully force Congress to act on it in the subsequent months following the November elections.

In addition to Connecticut, and now California, eleven cities have passed similar legislation into law. Five of those cities passed their laws in 2014 alone. Sick-day measures are on at least a half-dozen ballots this November, including in Massachusetts, Oakland, California, and a few cities in New Jersey. At least six more states will take up the issue in 2015, including Colorado, Maryland and Vermont.

NHCOA, a staunch advocate for paid sick days, will continue to work alongside groups such as NPWF and FV@W to ensure that the voices of American workers who would benefit greatly from similar legislation, are heard.

Two More Cities Adopt Paid Sick Leave Policies

Yesterday we were witness to what is one of the most significant wins for working families in recent history: San Diego and Eugene, Oregon became the 8th and 9th cities to adopt paid sick leave laws. These cities are in good company, joining nine cities (Portland, New York City, Newark, Jersey City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC) and the state of Connecticut as places that have stood by working families and adopted paid sick day policies.

Despite detractors and critics in both cities, both pieces of legislation passed with ample majority (6-3 vote in San Diego and 5-3 vote in Eugene).

In San Diego, the law would provide full-time workers up to 5 earned sick days per year and prorate part-time workers sick leave based on hours worked, while in Eugene workers would receive one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked with the possibility of accruing up to 40 hours per year.

While there is still opposition and potential legal challenges are in sight, we are hopeful these measures will withstand and more workers and families will have the peace of mind they deserve.

Family Values @ Work’s Executive Director Ellen Bravo qualified yesterday’s events as “historic”:

“Campaigns for paid sick days in Eugene and San Diego involved months of organizing by local workers, small business owners and many partner organizations. Yesterday, their work paid off: no longer will workers in Eugene and San Diego be forced to choose between the job they need and the family that needs them.”

As thrilled as we are about this news, it makes us keenly aware of how many more cities, states and workers—especially Latino workers and families— stand to benefit from paid sick leave legislation. The road ahead to paid family and sick leave for all is long, but working together we can and will improve the lives of all workers and their families.

Connecting the Dots: Equal Pay, Caregiving and Paid Sick Leave

98 days. A little over 3 months. That is how many additional days it takes for women to earn the same as men in the previous year. For African American women and Latinas, it would take even longer.

National Equal Pay Day Graphic

One might wonder why in 2014 we continue to experience such a noticeable wage gap among genders. The answer is quite simple: women are not just workers. They are also primary caregivers. In fact, about two-thirds of Hispanic caregivers are Latinas.

Whenever a women needs to take time off to give birth or care for a sick child, an elderly loved one, or herself, her ability to remain employed, get promoted, and create a name for herself in her field is compromised, especially if her state doesn’t have paid sick leave laws.

This is particularly true among Hispanic women, who are often the heart of their households. In a cultural context, Latinas grow up being cared for by women, and grow to fulfill that role with younger generations of family members, whether they are children, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, or grandchildren.

As we commemorate National Equal Pay Day, it is crucial that we work toward sound, common sense public policy solutions that will reduce, and eventually close, the gender wage gap, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 377/S. 84).

We also need legislation that helps all working Americans successfully balance and maintain their work and home lives, such as:

  • Paid family and medical leave insurance modeled on successful state programs in California and New Jersey;
  • Expanded access to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for more workers for more reasons; and

 

 

 

 

A Special Wish on the FMLA’s 21st Birthday

By Dr. Yanira Cruz

Today, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turns 21 years old, and as a daughter, mother, caregiver, and worker I couldn’t be more thrilled. For more than two decades, the FMLA has provided workers the ability to maintain their jobs while they take care of their own health or that of a loved one, including myself. But we are the lucky ones. There are still many Americans who have to negotiate between their responsibilities as a worker and their duties within their households. Sadly, this negotiation is never a win-win situation.

Currently, 40% of workers do not have access to paid sick leave. This means that not every worker who needs time off to take care of a medical or health condition can’t afford it because they will receive partial or no pay during their leave of absence. A 2012 study from the Department of Labor showed that almost 5% of those without access to FMLA needed to take time off for medical or health reasons and couldn’t. Of those, nearly half said they couldn’t take the time off because they couldn’t afford it.

On the other hand, those who did take unpaid leave or partial paid leave were not better off. The DOL also reports that workers who took leave without FMLA had to seek alternative ways to make ends meet, such as borrowing money, using savings, putting off paying bills, limiting spending, or signing up for public assistance. And, if we look at low-income workers, the data and numbers are even more dismal.

Given that households are becoming increasingly multigenerational— particularly in the Latino community— we must continue the path our fellow advocates forged in 1993 with the passage of the FMLA. That is why as President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), I have made paid sick leave and paid family and medical insurance a key legislative issue for the organization.

When workers are healthy, businesses are healthy. And when family members are healthy, communities thrive. Over the past couple of years, we have worked with closely with advocates in California and New Jersey to inform and educate Latinos, who tend to be working family caregivers, about the FMLA and paid sick leave so that they understand their rights as workers.

Today, on behalf of NHCOA, I renew our support for the FMLA and urge Congressional action on two pieces of legislation Congress is currently considering related to paid sick leave and family and medical insurance, the Healthy Families Act (paid sick days) and the FAMILY Act (paid family and medical leave insurance). Both pieces of legislation would help eliminate the choice people face between their health and family and their economic security.

I am also making a wish in honor of the FMLA’s 21st birthday. I wish for swift, bipartisan action on the Healthy Families Act and the FAMILY Act this year because being a good worker should not come at the expense of caring for one’s family and health.

Wish the FMLA a happy 21st birthday by tweeting this wish:

Let’s build on the success of the #FMLA and support workers by passing the #FAMILYAct and #HealthyFamilyAct this year. #FMLA21

This is part of the Family Values at Work blog carnival on the FMLA anniversary—read all the posts there