President Joe Biden says he will include a federal paid leave program as part of his multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan to rebuild America.
The program includes updates and repairs to roads, bridges and utilities - then, it's expected to tackle family issues, such as access to health care, affordable childcare and paid leave for all workers.
Advocates for working families say the pandemic underscores the need in states like Utah that have no state-level leave policy. Dawn Huckelbridge, director of the Paid Leave for All campaign said the new stimulus is an opportunity to establish a national policy.
"We can't come out of a pandemic without making some structural changes, and without honoring the people who really carried us through this," said Huckelbridge. "Particularly the front-line workers who have continued going into work every day, at risk to their own health, often without the guarantee of a single paid day of leave."
According to Paid Leave for All, only about two in ten American workers have access to paid leave.
In Utah, employers are not required to provide paid or unpaid leave. Utah lawmakers have said those types of policies should be set by individual employers.
Vasu Reddy - senior policy counsel at the National Partnership for Women and Families - disagreed, and said the lack of paid leave is doing real harm to families across the country.
In the last year, many Utahns have been caught between caregiving responsibilities and economic security. Reddy pointed out that many child-care facilities closed in the pandemic, leaving families in a bind.
"Those folks have been put in this impossible situation of figuring out, 'What am I going to do, because I don't have access to this really commonsense policy that would really help at this moment?'" said Reddy.
A National Partnership study shows 79% of U.S. voters in 2020 supported a permanent paid family and medical leave program. Several bills to expand paid leave were filed in the most recent Utah legislative session, but none survived.