Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is reportedly standing in the way of a Democratic effort to extend federal paid sick and family leave benefits that are set to expire at the end of the year, potentially stripping key emergency assistance from tens of millions of Americans and depriving the nation of an effective tool in the fight against Covid-19.
Democratic lawmakers are seeking an extension of the paid leave programs in the $900 billion coronavirus relief package currently under negotiation, but Buzzfeed reported late Friday that McConnell is leading the Republican effort to ensure the provisions expire.
"Democrats initially sought to broaden the scope of the program and extend it," Buzzfeed noted. "Those goals were lowered to merely extending the program for several more months due to Republican opposition, according to one Senate aide. Now Republicans, led by McConnell, are opposing an expansion of the program altogether."
Approved in March as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the paid sick and family leave programs have helped prevent thousands of coronavirus cases per day despite their severe limitations; before the benefits were approved, Republicans ensured that companies with 500 or more employees would not be required to provide them to workers exposed to or infected by Covid-19.
"There is absolutely no reason, and no excuse, for failing to extend the lifesaving and bipartisan paid leave policy that is already on the books," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the author of an amendment that would have expanded the paid leave benefits to all U.S. employees and independent contractors, told Buzzfeed.
Murray said that "anything less" than an extension of the current benefits "would make absolutely no sense and be a catastrophe for millions of workers who shouldn't have to choose between their health or their paycheck."
The federal paid sick and family leave benefits are among the dozens of emergency relief programs set to expire at the end of the year without congressional action.
The Washington Post reported that the paid leave benefits have "not been part of the approximately $900 billion relief package that White House officials and congressional negotiators are putting the finishing touches on, although some lawmakers hope they can still find a way to extend the program."
"It is not that paid sick leave for working-class people exposed to Covid is no longer needed: At least 3,406 Americans died from Covid on Thursday," the Post observed. "The nation reported its highest single-day numbers of deaths, hospitalizations, and new infections again yesterday: 252,431 new cases were confirmed, and hospitalizations have risen 6.7 percent in the past week."
Vicki Shabo, a senior fellow at New America who specializes in paid leave, warned Friday that failure to extend the soon-to-expire benefits would have devastating consequences and urged people to call their representatives.
"More cases, lost jobs, lost lives," Shabo wrote. "Let's not let this stand."