Guest Columnist

To Grassley and Ernst: Don't let paid leave expire on New Year's Eve

The Capitol is seen behind the bare branches of a tree, in Washington, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewh
The Capitol is seen behind the bare branches of a tree, in Washington, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

This New Year’s Eve won’t be so happy for many who are unable to work due to the pandemic.

Why? On Dec. 31 paid leave protection for Iowans and Americans will expire. We call on Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley to put aside party politics and focus on the needs of Iowans before it’s too late.

Back in March, both of our Iowa Senators voted for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), BUT when it came to the paid leave portion, they were each a resounding no on this important part of the Act. What our Iowa Senators do and what they say are entirely different stories.

It’s interesting that Sen. Grassley responded to passage of the FFCRA, stating: “In this package, we increase both paid sick leave and paid family leave to ensure people can stay home to stop the spread of coronavirus, as well as ensure that these measures are funded so employers across the country don’t run into cash flow problems that threaten their businesses.”

And at a Gov. Kim Reynolds’ news conference in March, Sen. Ernst praised the paid sick leave provision of the coronavirus relief package. She even went so far as to remark that “A significant part of phase two was also making sure that our workers, our moms and dads, have paid sick leave, emergency sick leave, so that if they were affected by the coronavirus then they would be covered for the time that they had to take away from their employer.”

Their comments, however, don’t ring true.

Both of our senators supported and voted for the Johnson Amendment — which would have removed paid sick and family leave from the Act. And they each voted NO on the Murray Amendment that would have closed the loopholes to cover more workers with the paid leave they need during this crisis.

We keep hearing our senators praise essential and front-line workers, but we need more from them. We need action.

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In May, the U.S. House approved the HEROES Act which would close those loopholes in the existing law that excludes millions of America’s workers. The law would expand coverage to employees of businesses with more than 500 employees and to health care workers, emergency responders, and small business employees left out or underprotected under current law. In addition, the HEROES Act would expand paid leave protections by providing extended paid leave for a broader range of purposes, covering additional health and caregiving needs, and extending the emergency paid leave provisions through 2021.

Iowans are facing impossible choices, forcing us to choose between job and family. We need our elected representatives to prioritize protecting Iowans during this pandemic and focus on the relief that is sorely needed.

COVID-19 has taught us that paid leave saves jobs and saves lives. We know we need a common-sense solution to address the paid leave crisis — a solution that extends beyond the December 31, 2020 expiration of the FFCRA. We know we need a national paid leave plan that covers all Americans.

Sue Dinsdale is the director of Iowa Citizen Action Network and leads the Paid Leave for All coalition in Iowa.

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