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Nearly 90 million workers weeks away from losing paid COVID leave

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Nearly 90 million workers could be just a month away from losing access to paid leave programs that helped slow the coronavirus’ spread, a new report says.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act — which Congress passed in March in the early stages of the pandemic — required most employers to give workers up to two weeks of sick days at full pay if they came down with COVID-19 symptoms, plus up to 12 weeks of leave at two-thirds pay to care for sick loved ones or children whose schools were closed.

Those programs are due to expire at the end of December, meaning up to 87 million public- and private-sector workers — or roughly half the nation’s workforce — will lose those benefits at a time when infections are spiking across the country, Politico reported Sunday.

Supporters of the programs fear their abrupt end could make the virus’s latest surge even more dangerous unless Congress extends them — an unlikely prospect given the stubborn stalemate in Washington, according to the outlet.

“If you tell a worker, ‘Don’t come to work when you’re sick so you don’t spread COVID, but you’re not going to get paid and your family’s not going to eat and you’re not going to pay your rent,’ you’re asking too much of them,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labor union, told Politico.

Researchers say the policies had a tangible public health benefit — states where workers gained access to paid leave under the Families First bill saw about 400 fewer coronavirus cases per day, according to an October study from Cornell University and the Swiss Economic Institute.

But conservatives reportedly contend that maintaining the broad paid leave mandate may not work well for employers.

“We need to give employers an incentive and we need to make it affordable for them to be able to provide these programs to their workers,” Elizabeth Hanke, an economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Politico.