Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, a third-generation El Pasoan, represents Texas’ 16th Congressional District.
My hometown of El Paso, a predominantly Latino community, has been disproportionately impacted by the public health and economic crisis. El Paso has had the second highest COVID-19 infection rates among counties with more than 50,000 residents, and one of the highest COVID-19 death rates among those same counties.
Unfortunately, the barriers to getting our community vaccinated are immense. Until we ensure the equitable distribution of the vaccine, we must continue to take this virus seriously by investing in keeping our people safe and supporting our workers and those whose lives have been upended.
This pandemic has exposed the deep inequities in our country. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Latinos and Black Americans make up 63 percent of COVID cases in Texas, over 20 percent more than their population makeup. Latinos are four times more likely to be hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms than white neighbors. Additionally, the economic consequences of this public health crisis on Latinos have been catastrophic, with more than 20 percent of Latinos facing unemployment in the summer of 2020 and a slower recovery than white workers.
Latinos, and Latinas in particular, are disproportionately represented in positions that put them on the frontlines of this pandemic—whether they are grocery store workers, nurses, or delivery workers. Yet, they lack the basic protections to ensure their own safety and well-being. Approximately 15 million Latino workers do not earn a single paid sick day, forcing workers to choose between their health or economic security. It is also estimated that only 25 percent of Latinos have access to paid parental leave.
Even the few with some access to leave still struggle without adequate support. Take Vanessa, an employee at the University of Texas at El Paso. Vanessa was overwhelmed with joy when she found out she was pregnant for the first time. But as she was preparing for the birth of her child, she realized that her only option was a short-term disability plan that only covered 60 percent of her pay, with a maximum of $693 per week for three months. Vanessa took three months off work to spend time with her new baby, but it impacted the family’s finances and their ability to cover basic needs.
Our lack of a national safety net has taken a significant toll on women in the workforce during the pandemic—forcing them to make difficult decisions between caregiving and earning a paycheck. The Census Bureau found that among parents age 25-44, women were three times more likely than men to leave work due to caregiving responsibilities. This was a major reason why 2.3 million women have been pushed out of the workforce, including nearly one million mothers.
The pandemic has taught us that we need renewed and expanded emergency paid sick days and paid family and medical leave to protect our public health, the economy, and the careers of women who bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities, so we are better prepared for the next crisis.
We must protect our public health as well as the careers of women and Latinos by extending and expanding emergency paid sick days and paid family and medical leave and making these policies permanent in the long term. I proudly voted to support President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which includes vital tax credits to encourage employers to provide workers with paid family and medical leave and paid sick days during the pandemic. This emergency leave is critical for the 61 percent of Texans who lack paid family and medical leave through their employer, according to a report from the National Partnership for Women & Families.
It’s been disappointing to watch elected officials in Texas continue to ignore the advice of medical professionals and put our economy over the public health and safety of our people. Governor Greg Abbott recently made a reckless decision to open Texas businesses to 100% capacity and lift the state-wide mask mandate. Our health experts have emphasized the urgency of taking the virus seriously, yet the Governor still decided to ignore science.
As elected officials, we must put the health, safety, and welfare of our people first. It’s going to take local, state, and federal officials working together to put policies in place to stop the spread of the virus—policies including allowing workers to take time off work to quarantine or care for a family member without losing their income, wrecking their finances, and further eroding our economy.