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News & Updates from the Assets & Opportunity Network


Inside the Statehouse - 2014 Introduction

Posted by dthomas on 01/06/2014

Happy New Year and welcome back to Inside the Statehouse, your weekly summary of public policy updates and analysis from the 2014 Indiana General Assembly. Each Friday we'll post and send this blog to our email subscribers (subscribe here) To stay informed daily, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (use hashtag #EconomicMobility for Policy Agenda related tweets).

Our goal is to provide readers with substantive analysis and important developments on legislation that impacts working families across Indiana. Our blog will detail the legislative activity surrounding the recommendations included in the Institute's 2014 Public Policy Agenda (click on picture below for more details) as well as a brief synopsis of all legislation impacting working Hoosier families. From time to time, if an unfavorable or favorable bill is moving forward, we will send Action Alerts with detailed information on how to act and/or who to contact to affect legislation.

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Financial Stability Partnership of Northern Nevada Releases Report to Help Financial Security in Region

Posted by mjohnson on 12/27/2013

Tags: Washoe County, asset poor

Reno, Nev. — The Financial Stability Partnership of Northern Nevada (FSPNN) recently released a study conducted by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a national nonprofit, to assist in local conversation about financial security, poverty and opportunity in Washoe County.

CFED’s “Assets and Opportunity Profile” includes a data snapshot of the financial security and opportunities for Washoe County residents. It also describes what it takes to become financially secure and cites examples of what cities are doing nationally to help their residents build a more prosperous future. Report highlights include that 61 percent of Washoe County residents have subprime credit scores and that only 58 percent of low-income residents have health insurance, compared to 75 percent of all residents.

“This report is an excellent resource to help fuel a productive and focused conversation about the conditions of financial insecurity in our community,” said Nancy Brown, chair of FSPNN and senior manager of community development with Charles Schwab Bank. “The profile provides examples of innovative and effective strategies that cities and counties from across the nation are using to increase the incomes, savings, assets and financial literacy of households. FSPNN can use these examples and possibly adopt those that could assist Washoe County.”

“The Assets and Opportunity Profile is a data tool that can help city leaders and local advocates understand and assess the critical problems that perpetuate financial insecurity among their residents,” said Kasey Wiedrich, senior program manager on CFED's Applied Research team.

The profile includes a set of more than 50 data indicators across seven categories that document and assess the current conditions of financial security, economic opportunity and financial access. This core set of data indicators is meant to serve local leaders as a diagnostic and communications tool in support of their work to improve and expand the financial stability of local residents. The profile was funded by a grant from the Walter S. Johnson Foundation to help highlight the data and northern Nevada’s best practices in creating financial stability.

“The FSPNN has made great efforts in focusing on financial stability as an essential building block to a better life,” said Karen Barsell, chief executive officer and president of United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra (UWNNS), a lead agency of the FSPNN. “Although we have efforts in place to assist with this critical issue, we believe FSPNN, as well as others in our county, can learn from the data and leverage it to better create financial security and opportunity for residents.”

About Financial Stability Partnership of Northern Nevada The Financial Stability Partnership was formed to strengthen individuals and families in Northern Nevada and the Sierra and promotes programs that help individuals and families attain and preserve assets, become more financially stable, and achieve long-term economic independence.

About the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) CFED expands economic opportunity by helping Americans start and grow businesses, go to college, own a home, and save for their children’s and own economic futures. We identify promising ideas, test and refine them in communities to find out what works, craft policies and products to help good ideas reach scale, and develop partnerships to promote lasting change. We bring together community practice, public policy and private markets in new and effective ways to achieve greater economic impact.

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Top 4 Takeaways from the Assets and Opportunity Leadership Network Convening

Posted by lmullany on 12/13/2013

On December 3rd and 4th, CFED's Assets and Opportunities Network (A&O) held its first Leadership Convening of statewide coalitions, advocates, and service providers working to deepen the impact of asset-based strategies. For those who didn’t make it, here are our top four takeaways.

1) Understanding Scarcity is key to anti-poverty work
Plenary speaker, Eldar Shafir, spoke on the role scarcity plays in all of our lives, but especially for those experiencing poverty. Scarcity of money or time captures our minds, causing us to focus in on immediate decisions to the neglect of other important longer-term issues. His book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much is a must-read for those of us actively working to end poverty. One big takeaway from his speech is that we need to consider the bandwidth cost often required of those experiencing poverty to accept program services. For example, providing support services like child care, transportation, or assistance filling out paperwork can be a much more appreciative and valuable incentive for a person than a $10 gift card as it frees up cognitive capacity to focus on other aspects of their life.

2) It’s a good time to be a kid in Nevada
Nevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall made news when she created a program to open up a Children’s Savings Account (CSA) for every child in a rural Nevada county, seeded with $50 from the state. She made even bigger news on Wednesday, telling the gathered crowd of asset building advocates that Nevada's CSA program will be extended to the entire state. The new initiative is a $1.8 million per year, 3-year pilot, to fund and administer CSA’s for public school children in the state of Nevada.

3) Is 2014 the year of Children’s Savings Accounts?
In addition to Nevada, several other states are providing state-tailored CSA’s for their kids. David Rothstein of Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland shared information about efforts in Cuyahoga county. In the past, Cuyahoga county, which includes the city of Cleveland, had invested much of its economic development funds into place-based ventures, but with graduation rates in the teens, a new county charter required new people-based investments to improve the education outcomes for residents. Cuyahoga county is poised to launch a new CSA program to open up a savings account for every kindergartener in the county and seed each account with $100.

Colorado is taking a different route with a two-generational approach through a 3-year pilot using Colorado’s 529 college savings account. Next September, certain pre-kindergarteners will have a 529 account opened up in their name with a $50 initial deposit from the state, and the first $100 in contributions per year will be matched. Financial education is provided to both kids and their parents.

In Illinois, we are championing the creation of a statewide Universal Children’s Savings Account program based on recommendations from the Illinois Childrens Savings Account Task Force.

4) Showing up matters
CFED, and other national advocacy groups, need power to affect change. With hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of legislation each year to read, review, and understand lawmakers and their aides need to hear from organizations in their community about how policy effects people on the ground. Sometimes it takes a sit-down meeting with legislators and their staff to put the issues that are important to our communities on their agenda.

IABG serves as the Illinois' lead organization in the A&O Network. However, you can get involved in the national movement as well by joining the A&O Network as a lead local organization and joining IABG.

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Indiana Institute for Working Families Announces 2014 Policy Agenda

Posted by dthomas on 12/09/2013

Indianapolis, IN- In order to better prepare Indiana's working families for a more secure economic future, state policies and investments that reflect the economic reality of low- and middle-income Hoosiers are more critical than ever. Policymakers should begin to provide a toolbox for families to restore the promise of economic mobility. This toolbox should: reward hard-working Hoosiers by ensuring they share in economic growth; strengthen work support programs for our most vulnerable citizens; and ultimately equip all Hoosiers with the opportunity to obtain the skills necessary in order to attract high-paying, quality jobs that are necessary for a family's economic self-sufficiency. All policy and legislative recommendations on the Institute's 2014 Policy Agenda are based on the culmination of the Institute's analysis of research, data and national best practice models.

Below are the Institute's top policy priorities for 2014.

Unemployment Insurance
1. Indiana Should Establish a Work Sharing Program. (Legislative) Work sharing is an unemployment insurance (UI) benefit that explicitly targets job preservation and allows businesses to retain their skilled workforce during times of temporary decreased demand. A work sharing program would allow an employer an option to reduce the hours and wages of all employees or a particular group of workers instead of laying off a portion of the workforce to cut costs. Workers with reduced hours and wages are eligible for partial unemployment benefits to supplement their paycheck. Because work sharing is voluntary, employers can make decisions about participation in the program based on their unique circumstances. For research, news and other legislative activity, please visit:

Addressing the 'Cliff Effect'
2. Indiana Should Smooth Out the 'Cliff Effect' (Legislative/Administrative) In an effort to solve the unintended consequences in current policy design, and to restore the promise of upward mobility for more families, policymakers can: encourage existing efforts at expanding access to Indiana's most vulnerable children; promise to restore the basic incentive for hard work (a raise equals an increase in net resources) and the incentive of upward mobility, and ultimately; aim to expand the innumerable benefits of high-quality childcare for Hoosier children and for their parents who face an increasingly prohibitive cost to work. For research, resources, news and other information relating to the Cliff Effect, please visit:

  • Continue Efforts Aimed at Reducing the Waitlist
  • Increasing CCDF Exit Income Limit to 250% FPG
  • Increasing CCDF Entry Eligibility to 200% FPG
  • Eliminate TANF and SNAP Asset Limits

Higher Education < br/>3. Require Data on the Effectiveness of Aid to Part-Time Students. (Legislative) At a time when Indiana is facing a substantial skills gap, Indiana must find ways to support adults and part-time students in higher education. In order to improve services to these students, the state should provide data about part-time students' unique circumstances and needs.

  1. Continue Differentiation of Services for Students in Adult Basic Education (Legislative/Administrative)
    Just as remedial coursework and associates degrees have been appropriately shifted from four-year institutions to our community colleges, certain basic skills training and language acquisition ought better be pursued through adult education and community-based agencies. Ensure that the state is providing remedial education and Adult Basic Education in the most effective ways, so students are at the right place with the right resources for the right jobs.

  2. Promote the Statewide Establishment of Prior Learning Assessments (Legislative/Administrative)
    Establish a policy that institutionalizes the practices of assessing prior-learning portfolios produced by adults with significant work experience, awarding academic credit for meritorious portfolios, accepting transfer academic-credit awarded through rigorous review by other institutions, and encouraging viable candidates to undertake the assessment process. Promote cooperation of business, public and non-profit sectors to more fully utilize PLA opportunities.

Workforce Development
6. Maximize On-the-Job Training (OJT) Opportunities (Legislative/Administrative) Improve OJT opportunities already available through federal funds by minimizing policy barriers that prevent more employers from utilizing the program, and promote these programs throughout the state.


ABOUT THE INDIANA INSTITUTE FOR WORKING FAMILIES The Indiana Institute for Working Families, a program of the Indiana Community Action Association (INCAA), conducts research and promotes public policies to help Hoosier families achieve and maintain economic self-sufficiency. The Institute is the only statewide program in Indiana that combines research and policy analysis on federal and state legislation, public policies, and programs impacting low-income working families. The Institute achieves its work through advocacy and education, and through national, statewide, and community partnerships. The Institute was founded in 2004. To learn more about the Institute, please visit:

ABOUT THE INDIANA COMMUNITY ACTION ASSOCIATION (IN-CAA) The Indiana Community Action Association, Inc. (IN-CAA) is a statewide not-for-profit membership corporation, incorporated in the State of Indiana in 1970. IN-CAA's members are comprised of Indiana's 23 Community Action Agencies (CAAs), which serve all of Indiana's 92 counties. IN-CAA envisions a state with limited or no poverty, where its residents have decent, safe, and sanitary living conditions, and where resources are available to help low-income individuals attain self-sufficiency. IN-CAA serves as an advocate and facilitator of policy, planning and programs to create solutions and share responsibility as leaders in the War Against Poverty. IN-CAA's mission is to help the state's CAAs address the conditions of poverty through: training and technical assistance; developing models for service delivery; and providing resources to help increase network capacity. For more information about IN-CAA, please visit:

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A&O Network Federal Policy Agenda (Will You Help Us on Capitol Hill?)

Posted by dthomas on 12/09/2013

Last week - as a state co-lead organization of the Indiana Assets & Opportunity Network - the Institute had been fortunate to participate in the A&O Network Leadership Convening in Washington D.C. Along with the opportunity to learn more about asset-building issues, we're thankful for the time Representative Walorski, Senator Donnelly and Senator Coats set aside for us to discuss the federal policy agenda (below) to compliment the Institute's state-based policy efforts.

t's easy for you to assist our advocacy efforts. Just click on the title of any legislation below to call that particular representative "with the click of a button" via

1 - Urge Congress to Lift SSI Asset Limit Tests & Defend State Flexibility
Representative Walorski, Senator Donnelly and Senator Coats:

  • Please protect millions of working families, children, vets and seniors who need SNAP and state's rights to waive asset tests. Please share your support with the Farm Bill conferees.
  • Indiana is just one of five states with rigid traditional categorical eligibility. Congressional Research Service - The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Categorical Eligibility
  • As part of our recommendations, read our SNAP and TANF Asset Briefs to see how eliminating asset tests can simultaneously encourage administrative efficiency and self-sufficiency.

2 - Expand and Protect Tax Incentives for Low and Moderate Income Families
Representative Walorski:

Senator Donnelly:

  • Please Cosponsor the Working Families Tax Relief Act (S. 836, Sen. Brown) - strengthen the earned income tax credit and make permanent certain tax provisions under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
  • Combined, this legislation and the Earned Income Tax Improvement and Simplification Act, could lift "more than 300,000 childless workers out of poverty, and significantly reduce the severity of poverty for almost four million more workers...could help meet challenges faced particularly by younger, less-educated people...including low labor force participation rates, low marriage rates, and even high incarceration rates." Economic Policy Institute - The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit

3 - Urge Congress to Re-Authorize and Improve the Assets for Independence Act
Representative Walorski:

  • Please Cosponsor Stephanie Jones Tubbs Assets for Independence Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2110, Rep. Lewis) and please Cosponsor Savings for Working Families Act (H.R. 2964, Rep. Pitts) - to enhance program flexibility and further support Individual Development Accounts.
  • Indiana's IDA program has shown that with the right incentives, low-income families can successfully build wealth. The aforementioned support would help to remove federal red-tape that currently prohibits additional success: IIWF: IDA Policy Brief
  • Please Cosponsor American Savings Promotion Act (H.R. 3374, Rep. Kilmer) - would remove barriers that prevent Prize Linked Savings products from spreading around the country.
  • "Due to outdated federal regulations, banks and federally chartered financial institutions are unable to offer prize-linked savings accounts," says Kilmer. His American Savings Promotion Act would remove that regulatory barrier. ABC News - Here's a Lottery You Cannot Lose.
  • Please Cosponsor American Dreams Act (H.R. 2155, Rep. Fattah) - would support child savings accounts and financial education for low-income students, throughout the country.
  • "The increasing interest in college savings accounts is an acknowledgment of today’s reality: College is indisputably a ticket up the economic ladder, but the soaring cost makes it out of reach for more and more families. According to the Brookings Institution and the Pew Economic Mobility Project, barely one in three children from the poorest fifth of families enrolls in college, and only about one in 10 graduates. By comparison, among the wealthiest fifth of families, four in five children go to college, and more than half (53 percent) graduate. Children’s savings programs, which have the potential to offer big returns on relatively small investments, are a response with bipartisan appeal." CFED - The Inclusive Economy (Op Ed via Politico)

Senator Coats:

  • Please work with Senator Merkley to develop a bipartisan reauthorization of the Assets and Independence program.
  • Indiana's IDA program has shown that with the right incentives, low-income families can successfully build wealth. The aforementioned support would remove the federal red-tape that currently prohibits additional success: IIWF IDA Policy Brief

Senator Donnelly and Senator Coats:

  • Please Cosponsor American Savings Promotion Act (S. 918, Sen. Coons and Sen. Rubio) - would remove barriers that prevent Prize Linked Savings products from spreading around the country.
  • "Due to outdated federal regulations, banks and federally chartered financial institutions are unable to offer prize-linked savings accounts," says Kilmer. His American Savings Promotion Act would remove that regulatory barrier. ABC News - Here's a Lottery You Cannot Lose.
  • Please Cosponsor American Dreams Act (S. 1597, Sen. Moran and Sen. Brown) - would support child savings accounts and financial education for low-income students, throughout the country.
  • "The increasing interest in college savings accounts is an acknowledgment of today’s reality: College is indisputably a ticket up the economic ladder, but the soaring cost makes it out of reach for more and more families. According to the Brookings Institution and the Pew Economic Mobility Project, barely one in three children from the poorest fifth of families enrolls in college, and only about one in 10 graduates. By comparison, among the wealthiest fifth of families, four in five children go to college, and more than half (53 percent) graduate. Children’s savings programs, which have the potential to offer big returns on relatively small investments, are a response with bipartisan appeal." CFED - The Inclusive Economy (Op Ed via Politico)

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What Happened at the 2013 #AOConvening?

Posted by klawton on 12/06/2013

At the A&O Network Leadership Convening, Network Lead Organizations learned about salient asset-building issues, built relationships with peers, educated policymakers and decided the future direction of the Network. Whether you attended the conference or couldn’t make it to DC, you can follow what happened in one of three ways:

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Introducing a Prize-Linked Savings Program to Arkansas

Posted by tedwards on 11/26/2013

During the 2013 regular session of the Arkansas General Assembly, Sen. Robert Thompson introduced the “Arkansas Prize-Linked Savings Account Act of 2013” (SB119) to establish a prize-linked savings (PLS) account program. In PLS programs, financial institutions offer consumers a savings product with a low minimum balance requirement in which accountholders make deposits, making them eligible for drawings for a large cash prize. The potential of winning a prize encourages greater savings; yet, unlike gambling, no one loses. PLS programs center on the entertainment aspect and fun of winning prizes, but without risking one’s principal balance. Not everybody gets a prize, but everybody “wins” by accumulating wealth.

As a relatively new concept, SBCP’s policy team worked with Sen. Thompson, the Arkansas Lottery Commission and Doorways to Dreams (D2D) Fund to consider the technicalities and feasibility of the legislation. Due to concerns regarding the best infrastructure for the PLS program, the bill did not become law. However, it was recommended for interim study to address those concerns and to determine if and how a PLS program could work in Arkansas.

In an effort to better assist policy makers and stakeholders in determining whether a PLS program could be a good fit for Arkansas, SBCP’s policy team released the latest edition of its policy brief series, Policy Points, entitled, “Everybody Wins: Creating a Successful Prize-Linked Savings Account Program in Arkansas.” This report explains the purpose and effectiveness of PLS accounts, outlines why a PLS program in Arkansas may greatly benefit the state and its people, and offers three PLS program alternatives for state policy consideration.

While state law is needed to create PLS accounts programs, federal law is needed to allow banks to participate in the program. Currently, federal law prohibits banks from offering PLS accounts but allows credit unions to do so. Last month, U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) and U.S. Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA) introduced “The American Savings Promotion Act” (S.1587), which would remove federal regulatory barriers that prohibit banks from offering PLS accounts. Because of the policy team’s work on PLS accounts on a state level, Southern Bancorp Community Partners sent a letter to the bill’s sponsors endorsing the federal legislation.

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16,000 Girl Scouts to Receive Financial Literacy Training

Posted by rlynch on 11/26/2013

Tags: girl scouts, youth, financial literacy, North Carolina, prepaid card

Following a study by the Girl Scouts Research Institute, the Girl Scouts Hornets Nest Council of North Carolina has partnered with SpendSmart(TM) to provide financial literacy education to 16,000 Girl Scouts beginning in January.

The study, entitled Having it All: Girls and Financial Literacy, surveyed over 1,000 girls aged 8-17 and their parents with questions concerning financial literacy and debt management. The study found that while nine in ten girls recognize that learning how to manage money is important, only five in ten feel confident making financial decisions. Furthermore, only 36% of girls claim to be knowledgeable about investing and increasing their wealth and only 24% know what a 401k is.

Despite these statistics, however, the girls were largely optimistic about their financial futures. An overwhelming majority of girls expect to have an enjoyable career, to be able to provide for their families, and to both earn and save "a lot of money."

Katherine Lambert, Executive Vice President of the Girl Scouts, Hornets Nest Council is hoping that the partnership with SpendSmart will help bridge the gap between girls’ financial goals and their financial success. She states, “SpendSmart's message of financial literacy and responsibility is very much in line with the ideals the Girl Scouts promote. We are partnering with SpendSmart to develop this innovative and dynamic program that will truly benefit the girls as they learn about managing finances.”

In addition to the training course, Scouts will have the opportunity to practice managing their money with SpendSmart’s Prepaid MasterCard. The card also allows parents to play a role in their child’s financial education by sending text alerts every time a purchase is made and by giving the parent the option to lock the card to prevent future purchases.

For more information on the SpendSmart program, please visit

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Report: State's need-based college aid too low

Posted by esivak on 11/20/2013

Appeared in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal November 13, 2013

TUPELO – Mississippi must provide more aid to low-income college students, a new report says.

Doing so would both attract more students to pursue higher education and help them to remain in school, says “Investing in Our Future,” produced by the Mississippi Economic Policy Center.

“We’ve been looking at what kind of system do we have in place to make sure our adult workforce can get the skills necessary,” MEPC Director Ed Sivak said during an editorial board meeting at the Daily Journal on Tuesday to discuss the report. “…Can we remove the high cost of attending institutions of higher learning as one of the barriers?”

Although the state leads the nation in childhood poverty – with more than one third of its youth facing that hardship – Mississippi spends much less on need-based college financial aid than other states. Less than 15 percent of the $21.9 million it spent on college grant programs in 2012 was allocated based on financial need. Nationally, the total was 71 percent.

That’s because of the structure of Mississippi’s aid programs, the report said. One of them, the Mississippi Tuition Assistance Grant program, is not available to those who have received full federal Pell Grants, awarded based on financial need.

The report calls for that restriction to be lifted because the Pell Grant provides $5,500 annually, much less than the cost of university attendance.

“Investing in Our Future” also recommends two changes to the state’s only need-based aid program, the Higher Education Legislative Plan. It is designed to help students with an average adjusted family income of $36,500 or less. However its spring application deadline is much earlier than that for the other two programs, and many eligible students do not apply.

Pushing it back to the fall would align it with the MTAG and the Eminent Scholars Grant Program and allow college counselors to inform newly-enrolled freshmen about it. Doing so also could help to reach five times as many students, the report said. In 2012-13, there were 919 HELP awards, with another 3,828 students eligible.

Meanwhile, increasing the family income eligibility by $10,000 would make an additional 4,891 students eligible.

Making college more affordable for low-income students would remove an important barrier and help the state improve its educational attainment, the report said.

“These recommendations will pay off for Mississippi in the long run, but it is something we’ll have to get ahead of,” said D. Polk, MEPC policy analyst.

Taking all three recommendations could cost the state $46 million for up to 33,425 additional awards.

“At the very least, this needs to be part of a conversation when you talk about how we finance college and make it accessible,” Sivak said.

Since 1995, the cost of tuition, housing and a five-day meal plan at Mississippi’s community colleges has grown by 38 percent. The state’s median household income has only increased by 6 percent during that time.

The report also calls for the state’s three programs to open eligibility to adult and part-time students.

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Ten States Have Banned Cities and Counties From Passing Paid Sick Days

Posted by dlevine on 11/19/2013

Ten states — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin — have passed preemption laws that ban all cities and counties from enacting paid sick days bills, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute.

Momentum has picked up recently, with seven of those laws passed this year alone. They have also been introduced in at least 14 state legislatures, and Pennsylvania is currently considering one that was introduced in October.

Big business has been helping to fuel this tide of legislation. As the report notes, “In each of the ten states, the bills’ sponsors included members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). And in each case, the bills were adopted following vigorous advocacy by corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and Restaurant Association.”

Yet even though these business opponents claim that paid sick days would create unbearable costs, the evidence from those places that do have paid sick leave shows that they can be beneficial. Business growth and job growth have been strong under Seattle’s law. Job growth has also been strong in San Francisco and its law enjoys strong business support. The policies in Washington, DC and Connecticut have come at little cost for businesses. In fact, expanding DC’s current law would net employers $2 million in savings even with potential costs factored in. On the other hand, the average employer loses $225 per worker each year thanks to lost productivity when they get sick and can’t take paid leave.

And as the momentum grows for preemption bills, so too does the push for paid sick days. Six cities and Connecticut have them on the books, and fights are underway in Newark, NJ; Tacoma, WA; Massachusetts; New Jersey; and Vermont.

Follow: #GetWellFL

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