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Jody Heymann testifies before US Senate Committee

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Published: 13 Feb 2007

Dr. Jody Heymann, Director of the McGill University Institute for Health and Social Policy (IHSP), testified on the issue of paid sick days before the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Tuesday Feb. 13th.

Director of McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy addresses Kennedy-backed legislation on paid sick leave

Dr. Jody Heymann, Director of the McGill University Institute for Health and Social Policy (IHSP), testified on the issue of paid sick days before the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Tuesday Feb. 13th.

“Without paid sick days,” Dr. Heymann told the Committee, “working families are placed at risk economically, experiencing wage and job loss when they take time off to provide care for family members.”

Dr. Heymann, who recently published new research revealing that U.S. policy on working conditions for families still lags dramatically behind that of all other high-income countries and many developing countries, is considered North America’s foremost expert on the impact of health and social policy on working families.

In The 2007 Work, Family, and Equity Index: How Does the U.S. Measure Up?, released in Washington Feb 1st, she reported that at least 145 countries provide paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses, with 127 providing one week or more annually. The U.S. provides unpaid leave only for serious illnesses through the Family & Medical Leave Act, which does not cover all workers.

“Can the U.S. afford to provide paid sick days and still compete in the global economy? The answer is clearly yes,” Dr. Heymann told the Committee. “Most of the world already has legislation guaranteeing paid sick days. All the most competitive economies do. Will it make a difference to the health of American children and adults alike in need of care? An enormous one.”

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions’ incoming chairman, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass), is leading an effort to have the new Democratic-controlled congress pass the Healthy Families Act: Safeguarding Americans' Livelihood, Families and Health with Paid Sick Days. The proposed legislation would provide seven paid sick days a year to employees for their own health needs or those of a family member.

In her testimony, Dr. Heymann, who is trained as both a pediatrician and a policy analyst, called on her own experience as a medical professional to underscore the benefits of paid sick leave to both working parents and the companies that employ them.

“When I cared for children as a doctor…I relied entirely on the ability of parents to provide care for their children,” she recalled. “When I discharged a child from the hospital after a serious asthma attack, the prescription and instructions for care went with the mother and father – and on the shoulders of parents rested whether the child would have a healthy recovery or return within days to the emergency room. For parents whose work let them take sick days to care for their children, whether after an asthma attack, to get a routine vaccination, or to check that the child met important developmental milestones, this was a fair responsibility to place on their shoulders. But for too many American parents, I’ve learned they have no chance to provide adequate care for their children – no matter how desperately they want to – because they are forced to choose between taking the needed hours to care for their children’s health and earning income that is essential to that care.”

The founding director of the Harvard Project for Global Working Families, Dr. Heymann holds both an MD and a PhD in public policy from Harvard. She arrived at McGill in 2005 as Founding Director of the IHSP and holds a Canada Research Chair in Global Health and Social Policy. Her recent book Forgotten Families: Ending the Growing Crisis Confronting Children and Working Parents in the Global Economy (OUP, 2006), examines the impact of globalization on working families worldwide.

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