Workers about to lose benefits. Tens of millions of workers stand to lose access to federally mandated paid sick and family leave at the end of December, compounding the hardship over the surging pandemic for American families. Families First, a relief package enacted in March, required many employers to provide workers with two weeks of coronavirus related sick leave at full pay and up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave to care for family members at two thirds pay. Researchers estimate this covered half the U.S. workforce. But those provisions–which cost about $105 billion–are slated to expire at the end of the year, along with expanded unemployment insurance and other policies, meaning that as many as 87 million public and private sector workers could be deprived of the benefit. That comes as virus cases and deaths are spiking, forcing many communities to roll back business and school reopenings. Workers about to lose benefits.

U.S. lawmakers have been locked for months in a stalemate over another coronavirus relief package. Should Congress fail to clear legislation the paid-leave policy–an outcome that is looking increasingly likely–it could exacerbate a critical situation, unions, labor law experts and Congress members warn. “Letting this policy expire would put millions of workers at risk of having to make impossible choice between their health and their paycheck, and undermine our recovery efforts,” Senator Patty Murry of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee said. “We need to extend this policy and expand it to include more workers.”

The public health benefits of paid sick leave have been documented. States that gained access to paid sick leave under Families First experienced about 400 fewer cases of Covid-19 per day, researchers at Cornell University and the Swiss Economic Institute found. The policy–which applies to many public sector employers and private businesses with fewer than 500 workers–“was a highly effective policy tool to flatten the curve”.