Racism, classism and misogyny work together to hold our communities back. When we work together for policy solutions like paid family and medical leave, childcare, healthcare and more, we can create a system that ensures none of our community is falling, or being pushed through the cracks.
I am a mother who sat next to her son in a hospital bed for 12 days due to an unknown illness. The doctor told him that full recovery meant taking off from work for at least a year to improve his heart rate. He did not have paid leave; he could have become homeless. I also knew a young mother who died from COVID-19 because she continued to work to put food on the table – her children are now motherless. I fight because no one should have to go through this in the richest nation in the world.
I do this work because I am a mama of a disabled teenager, because I am a caregiver. My self advocacy started because I was a young, black, single mother navigating the healthcare and employment system that didn’t offer time off to care for my son.
I do this work because I’m passionate about organizing and mobilizing so others aren’t affected by the same systemic blockage I’ve fought to overcome; it’s personal for me. I fight so hard so that single moms from Detroit and other black and brown neighborhoods, who have children with disabilities, know there are laws, policies and people who work tirelessly to support their loved ones.
In 2015 and 2016, I was part of a team of folks with the Coalition for Social Justice and Raise Up Massachusetts who collectively gathered more than 130K signatures for our Paid Family Leave ballot measure. I was just a volunteer back then, and spent hours in front of grocery stores and at public events circulating petitions. I cared about paid leave but never knew I would actually need it. Until I did.
In early 2017 my 78 year-old dad got severely sick and I had to fly from MA to ID (2500 miles) to care for him with no idea how long I’d be gone. I didn’t have paid sick time because of my employment status, and paid leave hadn’t been passed yet. Most of my savings went to pay for the one-way plane ticket.
While caring for him, I was scared I wouldn’t have enough money for the plane ticket home, and even started planning which of my friends I’d have to call and ask to clean out my apartment if I couldn’t pay my rent. When I did get home, I had to take a third job to make up for the bills and debt I’d accumulated while I cared for him. Massachusetts passed paid leave and I’m glad that I fought for it but my sisters in ID don’t have this state policy so it’s all really personal.
This is why I’m excited that we are seeing momentum in paid leave on a federal level because no one should be punished for caring for a loved one, for doing the right thing.
In 2014 my husband and I quit our jobs in Indiana and moved to Michigan to care for his mother, who was struggling with diabetes and needed 24-hour care for a few months. . If we’d had access to paid family and medical leave at the time, we might have been able to provide care without leaving our homes or jobs. Three years later, she was diagnosed with cancer and she came to live with us in Connecticut, and we continued to care for her in our home.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, I was pregnant for the first time. Shortly after learning, I was pregnant, I was furloughed for about a year. When our baby came, my husband was able to take six weeks of paid family and medical leave. But after that, he was required to work in-person half of the time. We didn’t feel comfortable with the level of COVID exposure that was inevitable. We had the care of our newborn and his immuno-compromised mother, but we did what we had to do to keep his job. And he went back to work.
My family has needed comprehensive paid family and medical leave over the years. We need quality, affordable childcare for our daughter right now. As a result, these issues have brought me to action. I volunteered for a local organization fighting for care, worked to get Paid Family and Medical Leave passed in Connecticut and continued to educate voters and support candidates who will ensure that everyone has the freedom to care – I had no choice but to turn my care story into action.
By: Destie Hohman Sprague
Maine Women’s Lobby
Care work is the invisible underpinning of our economy. Care work – the paid or unpaid work of looking after the physical, emotional, and developmental needs of others – is also highly gendered, and 85% of Maine caregivers are women
Unpaid family care work seems “free,” so it gets left out of many policy conversations. But care work comes at a cost, including caregivers’ and parents’ ability to fully participate in the workplace, save for retirement, find time to give back to our communities, and do what they need to for their families.
Here in Maine, we’ve been moving toward a solution for this problem for years. In 2021, we passed a bill to create a statewide, bipartisan Commission on Paid Family and Medical Leave. They worked for 18 months, listening, learning, hearing from other states and Maine businesses and community members. They commissioned an actuarial report which modeled hundreds of different program elements. In the end, they presented a final bipartisan report which was nearly unanimous in its recommendation of a robust plan for Maine.
But now, the opposition interests are saying it’s too fast, too big, and too expensive.
Two years of bipartisan work, on top of years of effort (there have been bills for paid family and medical leave in the Maine Legislature for at least ten years) plus the decades of failure to invest in caregiving is not too fast.
A system to ensure that families no longer have to choose between their families and their paychecks, one that 14 other states and nearly every country in the world already has passed, is not too big.
A plan to move the burden of unpaid care from the backs of women, people of color, and low wage workers into a shared responsibility is not too expensive.
Every time we hear “it costs too much,” we hear the subtext: it would be easier and more comfortable for people in power to continue to look away. The opposition would prefer to allow women, BIPOC folks, and low wage workers to continue to shoulder the burden alone.
Choosing not to act is choosing to continue passing the costs of inaction on to individuals and small businesses to bear alone. It’s time to do better, and this year, we are ready to pass LD 1964 in Maine, and to create a system that moves us toward that better future.
Written by Carol Joyner
Once again, those who center women and others providing and needing care have a dilemma. A budget reconciliation proposal, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, is on the table that addresses several things we all badly need: energy security and climate change policies, health care extensions of the ACA, and tax reform measures including ones that will lower prescription drug prices. Millions of people across the nation will benefit from this legislation. But the policies we know are also crucial to our nation’s recovery — child care, paid family and medical leave, eldercare services — yet again have been shoved aside.(more…)