Pandemic Benefits Expire, Leaving Millions Without Paid Sick Leave

Updated: Oct 16, 2021

Millions of workers lost their paid sick and family leave at the end of December 2020 after the United States Congress failed to extend them in the new relief package.

Congress provided the pandemic-related benefits in March 2020, when the pandemic began, to give ill workers and parents whose children’s schools were suddenly closed a financial cushion. However, lawmakers left out the guaranteed paid leave in the broad economic stimulus deal that was passed days before the benefit was set to end — even as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. peaked.

“We know this could have a significant impact on low-income workers. Those businesses in public-facing industries like food service may not continue to provide the leave,” Tanya Goldman, a senior policy analyst and attorney at The Center for Law and Social Policy, said in an interview.

About 30 million private-sector workers were not paid any sick leave before the pandemic. However, the The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) guaranteed many of them two weeks pay at their full wage in the situation where they contracted COVID-19 or were waiting for test results and quarantining. This offered tax credits to help compensate employers for the expense.

Many public service workers were also eligible for the paid sick and family leave benefit, including teachers. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), some districts granted teachers these benefits if they contracted COVID-19, but only as long as the federal benefit was in place. The new legislation provides tax credits through March 31, 2021, to employers who voluntarily choose to offer the paid leave. According to the Department of Labor (DOL), it is not a requirement to offer paid leave to employees.

President Joe Biden has pointed to paid sick leave as a critical tool for stopping the spread of COVID-19. One study found that the benefit offered in March resulted in about 400 fewer confirmed cases per state per day. President Biden’s plan hopes to provide paid leave and support low-income workers across the nation, as a major change from the previous benefit in place.

Through Teen Lenses: Have you heard about this new announcement? How do you think it is affecting people around you?

“Yes, I have heard about this announcement and I believe that people around me will be in a better position than others, depending on their healthcare situation. Hopefully, the BidenCare plan will follow through.” Dhruv Addanki, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax, VA
“I actually did hear about this announcement, but did not do much research on it. Now that Joe Biden is president, I know that there will be some changes in legislation regarding this announcement, but I do hope that it benefits those that need a paid leave due to being faced with COVID-19.” Richa Misra, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Chantilly, VA
“I’ve heard about this announcement and I think that many low-income workers would have a change in pace of their financial situation. A lot of millionaires may not be affected, because they already have ideal circumstances, but it’s not the same for those living in poorer conditions.” Simrith Ranjan, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Ashburn, VA