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Healthy Families Act Hearing

HFA Hearing Photo
Dr. Jody Heymann, Heidi Hartmann, Dr. Rajiv Bhatia and Mr. G. Roger King (Photo by Michelle Schafer)

On Tuesday February 13th, experts and Senators alike braved the wintry District weather to attend a hearing on the Healthy Families Act. Senator Kennedy, Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee sponsored a hearing to discuss the need for the Healthy Families Act. Dr. Heidi Hartmann, IWPR’s President, was among those invited to testify. One of her strongest arguments for paid sick days for families included a study done by IWPR that found employers would save an estimated 9 billion dollars in turnover costs. The logic behind this figure is that workers with paid sick days will be more likely to retain jobs therefore lowering the cost of rehiring for their positions by 43%. IWPR’s research provides the best reasoning for why the Healthy Families Act actually benefits businesses, an issue that Senators Enzi (WY), Isakson (GA), Allard (CO) seemed to be most concerned with.
Dr. Hartmann also reminded Senator Enzi and the committee that passing the Healthy Families Act would actually have a positive effect on wage inequity between men and women. Achieving pay equity has been a goal of Senator Enzi’s and of other committee members in other legislation, the Workforce Investment Act among others. Dr. Hartmann emphasized the importance of family leave for women who are often the primary care givers of children and the elderly. With seven paid sick and family care days to be provided by their employers, women would be more able to take a day to care for themselves or a family member without the fear of losing their jobs, a change that will help them retain their jobs and become eligible for seniority-based wage increases and promotions, thus leading to wage increases and contributing to narrowing the wage gap.
Dr. Jody Heymann argued for the Healthy Families Act through an analysis of international competitiveness. Her statistics showed interestingly enough that although the US is among the top 20 most competitive economies in the world, we are the only one without paid family leave. She said that 145 countries provide such leave and that 100 of them provide a month or more for employees. Senator Sanders (VT) seemed most impressed with the international comparison data, while Senator Brown (OH) asked about the data on cost savings.
The hearing was well attended by Acorn members and representatives of various women’s groups. All the Senators and witnesses spoke in favor of paid sick days (it’s hard to be against them), but one witness and several Senators expressed concern that it would cost too much and drive away business. The record was left open so that further questions could be addressed by the witnesses.
- Elisabeth Crum

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