On Nov. 10, the Senate HELP Committee’s Subcommittee on Children and Families, chaired by Sen. Chris Dodd, hosted a hearing on H1N1 and paid sick days entitled “The Cost of Being Sick.” In the course of the panelists’ testimonies, the hearing brought attention to the growing need for working families to have access to paid sick days with the emerging threat of an H1N1 pandemic.
Debra Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families, stressed the growing urgency of passing paid sick days legislation as she explained how public health is at risk when employers refuse to “provide a minimum standard of paid sick days.” Only a small number of food and public accommodation workers and childcare providers have paid sick days. Since H1N1 is currently “widespread” in 48 states and more than 100 children have already died of complications from H1N1, it is more important than ever to provide paid sick days and make it possible for working families to recover from their illness and stop the spread of H1N1.
The panelists also included government officials such as Rep. Rosa Delauro, who has been a leading champion in Congress for issues concerning working families, and Seth Harris, Deputy Secretary for the Department of Labor, who announced the Obama administration’s support for the Healthy Families Act. Mr. Harris commented in his testimony that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that everyone with an influenza-like illness should stay home in order to prevent further spread of the disease. The duration of time that most will have to stay home will be 3 to 5 days from the time that symptoms occur to when the fever subsides. He emphasized that providing sick days to employees will only have minimal costs to employers and that this should encourage employers to improve their work supports for their workers — especially for low wage workers and single parents who are especially vulnerable to making the hard choice “between keeping their jobs and taking care of their health and the health of their children.” Further, Mr. Harris expressed the Administration’s support of health care reform as another initiative that will help both working families and businesses through public health emergencies like H1N1.
Testimony was also heard from a working mother who has first hand experience with the devastating costs of being ill without paid sick days. Desiree Rosado, a working mother and wife from Groton, Connecticut, was recently impacted by H1N1 when all three of her children fell severely ill with H1N1 and she had no choice but to stay home and take care of her children even though her employer did not offer paid sick days. Although her husband works as a security guard, the absence of her paycheck has put a tremendous strain on their economic security and they are now living on the edge — from paycheck to paycheck. Through her moving testimony, she expressed her support of the Healthy Families Act and eloquently personalized paid sick days as an issue that must be addressed immediately by Congress.