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.