Women Employed Recommendations to Congress on Future COVID-19 Relief

Women Employed is working to ensure that our policy makers and leaders take bold and decisive action in response to this public health and economic crisis to mitigate the damage and put us in the best position to emerge as strong and stable as possible. Since our inception, our focus has been on the economic stability and security of working women and their families, particularly those in low-paid sectors where women, and particularly women of color, are overrepresented. Working women are especially vulnerable in this moment, primarily shouldering the burden of caregiving while juggling work, faced with having no work because their sector has rapidly shut down, or in a position where their work puts them at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic without adequate protections. In fact, one in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential and women of color are more likely to be doing essential jobs than anyone else. We can’t call workers essential on the one hand, but then not protect and support them as though they were essential on the other. None of us are immune from the impact, but some of us—those who can least afford it—are in the direct path of this crisis.

We are collaborating with our local and national partners to advance relief and support that actually reaches workers, convening higher education advocates to ensure that students’ needs are front of mind, and meeting with legislators to ensure that responses to this crisis are aimed at those in greatest need.

We are calling on our elected leaders in Congress to protect the immediate health and financial wellbeing of workers and their families, especially those on the frontlines, and strengthen the social safety net to allow for families and the economy to recover as quickly as possible by taking the following steps to fill gaps left by previous pandemic relief packages:

  • Ensure Paid Sick Days and Quality Jobs for All
  • Strengthen the Economy for the Long-term by Investing in Workforce Training,
    Higher Education, and Adult Education
  • Coordinate and Fund a Comprehensive Caregiving System
  • Protect Vulnerable Populations
  • Guard Against Rollbacks

Women Employed’s positions are informed by, and in some instances adopted directly from, partner organizations. We work in coalition with many of these organizations to promote the financial security and stability of working women by advancing the economic prospects of workers in low-wage jobs and those who aspire to careers with family-sustaining wages. A list of those partners can be found at the end of this document.

Ensure Paid Sick Days and Quality Jobs for All

The people on the frontlines, the people who have been called unskilled laborers—from grocery store clerks to nursing assistants—are doing critical work, work that has historically been undervalued. We are in a pivotal moment of being able to make a permanent shift in how we value their work, as critical to our society, our collective health and wellbeing. The next relief package must promote job quality for workers and the long-term unemployed. It must ensure that all worker protections provided in the relief packages also apply to consultants, the self-employed, and gig workers. Up to a third of employers may be misclassifying workers as contract consultants when they are actually employees. A public health emergency is not the time to exclude those already being denied benefits and worker protections and further deny them relief and protection. Whether they be platform workers (e.g., GrubHub, Uber, etc.), domestic workers, farmworkers, etc., these workers must share equally in the relief measures being afforded to all workers. At a minimum, relief measures must include, but not be limited to:

  • Provide personal protective equipment and protective occupational safety and health standards for front line workers such as grocery store workers, farmworkers, home care and child care workers, shelter and crisis services providers, and delivery service workers.
  • Pass the PAID Leave Act, guaranteeing all workers 14 emergency paid sick days and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, with the federal government reimbursing businesses in 2020 and 2021.
  • Expand the use of the 10 paid sick days guaranteed by the Families First Act so that they are available to all workers regardless of employer size, industry sector, immigration status, and to individuals engaged in caregiving because of the COVID-19 related closing of a school, care facility, or care program for a child of any age or other individual unable to provide self-care.
  • Increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour to recognize and compensate front-line workers for the skill they bring to their jobs and the value they provide to our economy.
  • Pass a federal scheduling policy to ensure all workers have stable schedules and can enroll in training and education programs without fear of work-scheduling interruptions.
  • Pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and guarantee a right to reasonable accommodation for pregnant workers unless it imposes an undue hardship on the employer, allowing pregnant workers to stay healthy and economically secure.
  • Invest in supports for survivors of domestic and sexual violence who are experiencing increased danger during this period of stay-at-home orders, including $100 million in emergency funding for the Sexual Assault Services Program.

Strengthen the Economy for the Long-term by Investing in Workforce Training, Higher Education, and Adult Education

Experience tells us that when layoffs begin, enrollments climb as those at all levels of the pay scale seek education and training to upgrade and retool their skills in the hope of better quality, better paying jobs. Meanwhile, the systems that provide that training are under tremendous stress and will need the  additional support to restart and increase programs. Public Viewpoint research by the Strada Education Network confirms that one-third (33%) of Americans believe that if they lose their jobs, they will need additional education to find a comparable one.

Experience has also taught us that as employment opportunities decline, enrollment in workforce training offered by community colleges and community-based organizations increases. Industries like healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing are essential and faced worker shortages before the public health emergency. Displaced workers will seek to reskill and retrain to take advantage of new and different employment opportunities. The next relief package must invest significant resources into up-skilling workers.

In addition, workforce investments should be made with an equity lens, ensuring that funding prioritizes resources for low-income people, people with low literacy, immigrant workers, people with criminal records, and people who face other structural barriers that marginalize them from access to good-paying jobs. We must also ensure that there are sufficient allotments for wraparound support services to stabilize vulnerable job seekers who may join the re-opened economy with numerous emergency costs (such as back rent, utilities, transportation costs, childcare costs, and other barriers) threatening their successful participation in workforce services and the labor market. This funding should be tied to economic triggers rather than arbitrary sunset dates – meaning the increased funding levels last as long as the ensuing economic crisis, which could endure for years.

Any infrastructure package must include comprehensive training and support services with a focus on those who have been disproportionately impacted by racial inequities in education and labor policy. At a minimum, relief measures must include, but not be limited to:

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) System

  • Invest no less than $20 billion in the workforce development system, with a particular emphasis on funding programs that serve people with major employment barriers to train workers dislocated due to COVID-19, to support layoff aversion efforts, to quickly upskill the workforce, and to address labor shortages in the current workforce.
  • Create a $20 billion Workforce Trust Fund, administered parallel to the existing UI Trust Fund, to ensure sustainable investment in skills during strong economies and during times of crisis. States should be eligible to draw down funding from the Workforce Trust Fund to support training, support services, business engagement, reemployment and upskilling and other activities that help prepare communities to best respond to local needs.
  • Require the Department of Labor to:
    • Reissue recently released WIOA allocations which were created before the pandemic and are inadequate to address the needs created by the demands that will be made on the public workforce system by massive layoffs and unemployment.
    • Give automatic no-cost extensions for discretionary grants so programs have time to recruit and reengage participants.
    • Suspend or renegotiate WIOA performance measures. When the current WIOA performance measures for job placement, job retention, and earnings were negotiated with states, it was under entirely different labor market conditions. These metrics put pressure on service providers to work with people who are the easiest to place rather than individuals who needed the most support. While the statistical adjustment model used for WIOA metrics considers some variation in populations served and labor market conditions, it is entirely unprepared for our new economic reality. At this time of heightened uncertainty, we must offer maximum flexibility without sacrificing program quality.
    • Include enrollment in workforce education and training programs to count as meeting WIOA outcome requirements tied to employment placement for displaced workers and others who will seek employment upon completion of their programs.
    • Encourage use of self-attestation to the maximal extent allowable under WIOA. For eligibility requirements that require documentation, encourage use of electronic verification (including but not limited to emailed documents and virtual signatures) so workforce agencies can continue to enroll clients during and after this crisis.
    • Issue guidance with the broadest possible interpretation of allowable costs for outreach, such as radio and social media ads that can reach workers during stay-at-home orders, when important outreach strategies such as partner referrals or other personal interactions are impractical.
  • Expand access to digital skills training necessary to succeed in rapidly evolving remote work and distance education environments should be a critical component of this support, too.
  • Provide special grants to community colleges and workforce training providers to support reconnection and “drop out recovery” efforts after the public health crisis ends.
  • Provide supplemental support to workforce education and training programs (including community colleges and community-based programs) for wraparound support services, case management, education and career planning and advisement, and wellness counseling and services to address heightened student need post the public health emergency.
  • Instruct States that supportive services can include emergency cash assistance; food; purchase of laptops, tablets, or internet hotspots; voice and data service for cell phones; recurring car-sharing or taxi costs (since public transit is reduced in much of the country); and other emergency needs during the pandemic and recovery efforts.
  • Assess the workforce system’s performance in creating pathways to good jobs with careers with family-sustaining wages and health and leave benefits; require increased data transparency in reporting requirements, including outcome data disaggregation by race, ethnicity, gender, and groups with other barriers.

Higher Education and Adult Education

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) System

  • Invest $12 billion in additional funding for need-based financial aid.
  • Restore Pell Grants to Incarcerated Students. Even before the current crisis, these individuals were likely to face significant obstacles to postsecondary education and employment upon release. While the U.S. Department of Education has expanded the Second Change PELL pilot, what we need now is more than pilots. The economic crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic makes it even more critical to support all individuals who face systemic barriers to education and employment.
  • Provide Financial Aid and Relief to Undocumented Students. Expand Federal Pell Grants and federal student aid to undocumented immigrants, including those who would qualify for relief under the American Dream and Promise Act.

Adult Education Funding

  • Earmark $1 billion for grants to states for adult education and literacy programs, including supportive services and needs-related payments.

Higher Education Funding

  • Strengthen the Education Stabilization Fund by providing at least $50 billion in additional education stabilization funding to provide fiscal relief to institutions of higher education and postsecondary students. Emergency funding to states and institutions will help to strengthen their capacity to offer students a high-quality education, maintain operations, retain faculty and staff, and cope with the disruptions caused by COVID-19. At least half of the education stabilization funds must go directly to college students, including new students, to help meet the basic needs of students with low incomes, particularly students of color, adult learners, and students impacted by the justice system. Emergency aid can help to cover the cost of food, housing, childcare, health care, computers, learning materials, and other expenses during this national emergency. In addition, funding distribution should take into account that many institutions enroll students on a part-time or less than part-time basis; these institutions should receive their fair share of funding.
  • Set aside at least $10 billion for community colleges to offer emergency aid to students, maintain operations, keep tuition and college costs affordable, and increase student success, especially in health-related fields.
  • Establish technology access funds for community colleges, workforce agencies,
    and adult education providers to address digital access disparities that run along racial and economic lines and ensure that students with low-income jobs and students of color have the digital capacity to continue their education in a remote learning environment.
  • Require equitable distribution of federal resources to campuses serving the highest numbers of low-income students and students of color. Weathering this pandemic will be more challenging for students and institutions with the least resources. Using the federal resources to offset the differential impacts on institutions and the students they serve will help those students, colleges, and universities rebound more quickly.

Wraparound Supports

  • Establish a fund to support early action on mental health on campuses to respond to the increased demand for student mental health services as a result of this crisis. Adult education as well as post-secondary students must have access to all funded services.
  • Require test-optional admissions practices for 2020 and 2021 cohort: The inequities that are exacerbated by ACT/SAT  requirements will be heightened in the next year as students with access to time, financial resources and technology will have more opportunity to prepare for standardized tests, for example. Many institutions are moving in this direction already, but it is imperative that all higher education institutions move in this direction for the upcoming cohorts to avoid increasing the inequities low-income students are going to experience during this crisis. Test-optional admissions must apply equally to recent high school graduates, returning or adult students, and adult education students.
  • Direct institutions to waive or alter requirements that prevent students from enrolling in the next term due to unpaid tuition, fees, or other college bills. This crisis has upended students and families, including their financial security. Many people have lost jobs and requiring bills be paid in full will make it more difficult for vulnerable students to stay on track.

Student Loan and Debt Relief

  • Reduce outstanding loan balances by passing the Student Loan Debt Relief Act. The CARES Act suspends loan payments through September 30, 2020, but with millions of workers losing their jobs, student loan debt can endanger people’s financial stability; cancellation of student debt would provide direct relief to millions of borrowers.
  • Provide student loan repayment forbearance across all loan types . While the CARES Act provides suspension of student loan repayment of publicly-held debt, an estimated 9 million borrowers are left out. Borrowers should have access to a hold-harmless repayment suspension period, regardless of loan type, including a freeze on interest accrual. Student loan borrowers with commercially-held Federal Family Education Loan Program debt, and debt held by institutions through the Perkins loan program, should have equal treatment to borrowers with federal loans covered by CARES repayment forbearance.
  • Institute oversight measures on loan collection activities to ensure the Department of Education complies in ceasing all involuntary collections, including wage and benefit garnishments. Students with low incomes and students of color cannot afford to have their wages garnished and credit ruined in the process.
  • Allow student loan debt to be discharged in bankruptcy as more women and families hit hard by the public health emergency find themselves forced to seek relief from their debts.

Other Student Protections

  • Adopt a plan to actively protect civil rights, student safety, and prevent cyberharassment in internet-based classrooms and provide guidance to institutions to proactively ensure that all of the safety measures for ensuring a productive in-person campus climate are adapted to meet the needs of digital learning spaces. This should include specific measures to protect students from Native, Black, Brown, LGTBTQ+, immigrant and other impacted communities, especially individuals who identify as or are perceived as Asian American and Pacific Islander who may have been subjected to racism related to COVID-19.

Coordinate and Fund a Comprehensive Caregiving System

For those who have caregiving roles both as part of their professional lives and their home lives, the public health crisis has increased their caretaking responsibilities exponentially. Our public infrastructure has never provided for the broad range of care needed for young children, school age children with parents who work outside the home, elders, adult dependents, or those with disabilities. Care programs are already stretched thin from a history of public underinvestment; many will go under if they are not provided the same types of bailouts that other industries have already received.

Women predominate both in caregiving professions and family caretaking roles. Relief measures must relieve the pressure on caregivers by ensuring that:

  • The childcare for all ages, adult dependent/disability care, and eldercare provider systems are strong and healthy.
  • Care workers and providers have the supports and protections they need while they are fulfilling their essential caregiving roles in the public interest.
  • The broader workforce has access to care for school-aged children while schools are closed for public health reasons and for summer break as many summer camps and programs have been cancelled for 2020.

If parents and other caregivers are to return to work as businesses reopen the federal government needs to coordinate and fund a comprehensive system of care that recognizes varied needs and supports multiple forms of service. Illinois is currently providing reimbursements to providers at the rate of 130%; we believe this is a model that could support the caregiving infrastructure nationwide. At a minimum, relief measures must include, but not be limited to:

Childcare Availability

  • Provide $100 billion to support the childcare sector to provide robust, flexible emergency funding to states to meet the emerging needs of families, providers, and educators, including, but not limited to: paying providers when they are required to be closed, eliminating copayments or tuition for families without penalizing providers, providing substitutes for educators, creating new temporary facilities to serve children of frontline workers, helping state and local agencies track childcare closures and capacity, and training and medical supports to enhance health and safety practices.
  • Design paid leave, housing assistance, grants for small businesses, and other supports so that all childcare providers, whether centers, family childcare homes, or family, friend, and neighbor care providers, can participate and take advantage of the benefits.
  • Offer appropriate flexibility during contract/grant renewals. It is important to consider that programs may be underspending in certain budget lines, and that current circumstances may cause under-enrollment or other missed benchmarks or program requirements. Governments should be mindful of the additional time it may take to scale programs back to pre-emergency enrollment levels.
  • Enforce small group sizes, and providers should limit contact by minimizing group activities.
  • Direct states to ensure that parents utilizing the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) can seamlessly switch to Family Friend and Neighbor care without being forced to meet requirements that are onerous and impossible to meet at the moment. As childcare centers, preschools, and schools are shut down ensure that parents are able to access CCAP benefits as soon as possible.

Caregiving Workforce

  • Provide higher levels of compensation for childcare providers and educators serving children of frontline workers or operating for longer hours.
  • Create a federal Heroes Fund to provide significant pay increases to frontline workers, including a recruitment incentive for home and health care workers.
  • Expand the allowable use of paid sick days to include all caregivers in addition to workers with children who are out of school.

Disability Care

  • Increase the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) match rate to ensure that Medicaid and state governments have the resources they need to ensure care for people with disabilities.
  • Pass legislation ensuring Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) in Medicaid:
    • Pass the Coronavirus Relief for Seniors and People with Disabilities Act and Home and Community Based Services grants to both the workforce and aging adults and people with disabilities in their homes and communities.
    • Pass the Ensuring Direct Access to Direct Support Professionals Act.
    • Make the Money Follows the Person program permanent.
  • Require HHS to issue guidance regarding rationing of care to ensure that when rationing treatment begins, decisions about how medical treatment should be allocated are made without discriminating based on disability.
  • Do not allow any weakening of the protections of the ADA for businesses or in the building of new facilities if necessary.
  • Ensure that any legislation to support access to virtual education and other supports are inclusive of the unique needs of people with disabilities, including requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Elder Care

  • Ensure adequate support is provided to residents to facilitate virtual visitation. Some individuals may be able to conduct virtual visitation independently but need the technology. Other individuals may or may not need the technology but need human assistance to use the technology and communicate with their loved ones.
  • Provide funding for the provision of technology and equipment, including videoconference and two-way audio/video options and acquisition or expansion of broadband Internet access services and require that nursing homes and assisted living facilities provide and support virtual visitation for their residents. As in-person visitations in nursing homes and other residential care facilities are largely halted, virtual visitation between residents and their loved ones is critical.
  • Prohibit facilities from discharging patients due to inability to pay for services during this pandemic. To facilitate enforcement, require facilities to report and disclose data on discharges and transfers. In cases of discharge or transfer, residents and loved ones should receive prompt notice, clear communication of the individual’s rights around discharge and transfer, information on continued virtual visitation rights, rights and ability to appeal a discharge or transfer and written notice of the long-term care ombudsman’s name and contact information prior to discharge.

Protections for Immigrant and Undocumented People

The federal administration has proactively worked to instill fear in immigrant and undocumented workers and their families. Congress has an opportunity to turn the tide by ensuring that the next relief package recognizes the courage and dignity with which these populations have conducted themselves and provides for them the same relief and protections received by their neighbors. At a minimum, relief measures must include, but not be limited to:

  • An immediate public statement from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assuring immigrants that accessing health care services will not put them at risk of immigration enforcement.
  • Any benefit-granting agency clarify that services accessed during the COVID-19 public health emergency will not count toward a public charge determination.
  • All emergency and relief benefits granted in the Families First and CARES Act be extended to immigrant and undocumented populations including paid sick days, unemployment insurance, etc.
  • Prohibit immigration enforcement at hospitals, clinics, and other sensitive locations such as food distribution sites and emergency shelters.
  • Automatically renew DACA and TPS grants and other work permits and statuses, extend deadlines, and waive requirements affected by USCIS closures.
  • Extend response time for the 2020 Census to help ensure that immigrant and other Hard to Count communities are accurately counted.
  • Halt all ICE operations and removals and collaborations between ICE and local police.

Guard Against Rollbacks

As we all work together to provide relief during the current crisis, it is critically important that we do not discard hard-won protections for workers that are now integrated into our society and economy.

  • On March 17, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued a memorandum suspending affirmative action in federal contracting. We ask that the OFCCP undertake immediate action to:
    • Rescind the March 17, 2020 memorandum suspending affirmative action. The longer that the waiver is in place, the more likely it is that people of color and others will be irreparably harmed by the loss of vital economic opportunities. The exemption disincentivizes contractors from casting a wide net when recruiting to attract qualified, diverse candidates and may serve only to worsen the already stark racial and gender wealth gaps.
    • Provide transparency in how the national interest exemption will be applied for the duration of the exemption. The OFCCP should maintain an online, publicly-available list of all contractors benefitting from the exemption, including the purpose of the contract, the basis for determining that the contract is to provide Coronavirus relief, the value of the contract and any subcontractors involved.
    • Require all federal contractors covered by the exemption to record and retain relevant personnel data, including compensation, hiring, promotion, and termination data ordinarily reported on affirmative action plans and EEO-1 filings and to relevant enforcement agencies.
    • Exercise oversight over the federal agencies determining which contractors are eligible for the exemption since they have broad discretion. Specifically, DOL should provide clear and objective guidelines for agencies to ensure that a national interest exemption is not being used as a pretext to excuse companies from important diversity and anti-discrimination obligations. We urge the OFCCP to not abandon its goals of promoting diversity and protecting workers during this pandemic by rescinding or not extending this exemption, and to work swiftly to help blunt and possibly reverse the extensive economic harm that vulnerable workers are currently experiencing.
  • Do not allow any weakening of the protections of the ADA for businesses or in the building of new facilities if necessary.
  • Require HHS to issue guidance regarding rationing of care to ensure that when rationing treatment begins, decisions about how medical treatment should be allocated are made without discriminating based on disability.
  • Ensure that any legislation to support access to virtual education and other supports are inclusive of the unique needs of people with disabilities, including requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
  • Provide funding for robust enforcement of civil rights protections including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  • Extend EEOC filing deadlines so that workers do not lose their window to file a claim for discrimination/sexual harassment because of the pandemic.
  • Create a COVID Relief Accountability and Transparency Board to provide oversight of companies that receiving government aid with an express mission to target workplace violations.
  • Establish that any company that hires an essential worker, whether that worker is categorized as an employee or independent contractor, must comply with the Protecting the Right to Organize Act.
  • Encourage sectoral bargaining to facilitate collective bargaining for essential workers, as it enables standards and working conditions to be negotiated for all workers in an industry and ensure protection for workers who are not currently unionized under the traditional workplace-by-workplace model and not able to organize under the pressure of the pandemic.


We acknowledge the following partners from whom we adapted key advocacy positions:

American Association of People with Disabilities
American Association of Retired People
The Association of Community College Trustees
Center for American Progress
Center for Law & Social Policy
The Century Foundation
Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership
Chicago Jobs Council
Coalition of Adult Basic Education
Family Values At Work
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Moms Rising
National Skills Coalition
National Women’s Law Center
Ounce of Prevention Fund
The Partnership for College Completion
Shriver Center on Poverty Law
We Demand More Coalition
Young Invincibles

Together, we will ensure more women, families, and communities can build their economic power and thrive.

All new or increased gifts will be matched by an anonymous donor!