Imagine this scenario: Your mom is dying and the only thing you can think of is how many hours you have left of vacation time, sick time, and PTO at work.
Your boss keeps calling. He knows your mom is sick, but he needs you back in the office. The doctors are telling you that your mom only has a few weeks left to live. The medical bills are starting to pile up, you can’t afford the babysitter anymore, and now the landlord left a late payment notice on your door. You’re frantically forced to choose between spending time with your dying mother and making ends meet.
You’ve found yourself in a situation where millions of Connecticut residents have been at some point in their lives.
Because the United States is the only industrialized country without a national paid leave program, people have had to make heart-wrenching decisions like this for far too long. But now with the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program launching this month, Connecticut residents will soon no longer need to choose between a paycheck and caring for themselves or family.
Connecticut, the eighth state to implement such a program (including Washington, D.C.), is leading the way with one of the most comprehensive paid leave programs in the country.
Paid leave is a win for workers, families, caregivers and for advancing racial justice.
Up until recently, many workers across the state did not have access to Paid Family and Medical Leave, an income replacement program that supports workers who need to take time off to care for themselves or a loved one, or welcome a new child without risking their paycheck or their job. This is especially true for Black and brown women, who are least likely to have access to family and medical leave through their employers.
Black and brown women are also most likely to be the top and only earners in their families: 81 percent of Black mothers, 67 percent of Native mothers and 52 percent of Latina mothers are the key or sole breadwinners for their families, compared to 50 percent of white mothers. This means that in the earlier scenario, a Black or brown woman has been more often forced to choose between caring for her mother or caring for her job.
Prior to our new reality in the midst of living in a pandemic, Black and brown women were already disproportionately affected by multiple systems that impact their lives, including access to childcare, equal pay, housing, and medical care. The COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmingly exacerbated these disparities and has forced us to think about solutions to these unfair barriers and challenges in our communities. Access to paid leave is a powerful tool towards achieving financial security for many Connecticut workers.
It is reassuring to note that paid leave is a step in the right direction in addressing these concerns, specifically helping Black and brown mothers and their families. But as we continue to adjust to the effects of the pandemic, especially as new variants are on the rise, paid leave is critical now more than ever. At the start of the crisis, when we were just learning about COVID-19, countless nurses and doctors, waiters, daycare workers, and many more frontline and essential workers were exposed to the virus and were forced to quarantine for two weeks without pay. Untold workers ignored the symptoms of illness in their own bodies so they could continue to work to earn money to care for themselves and their families at the risk of their own health.
Although the public health crisis has revealed to all of us just how critical paid leave is to workers and their families, workers have been forced to choose between caring for themselves and their loved ones, and providing for them financially, for far too long. In 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) temporarily required organizations to provide eligible employees with paid sick and family and medical leave for certain COVID-19 related reasons, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Those mandatory benefits expired at the end of 2020.
Since the start of the pandemic, millions of women left the workforce and sacrificed their paychecks, often to manage caregiving responsibilities for their families, also impacting employers by leaving them short-staffed.
Though paid leave has the potential to distinctly help Black women and Latinas, paid leave reduces the likelihood that everyone, regardless of race or gender, will go into poverty by keeping people employed.
As of January 1, paid leave benefits will finally be available to all eligible workers in our state through the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority. Workers will soon be able to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave each year; 14 if there are pregnancy-related complications, and can receive up to $780 per week, depending on their income to help address and cover the costs of rent, childcare, grocery, transportation costs and many more factors that affect their lives. As of the second week of December, 1,900 people had already applied for the state’s new PMFL program.
Workers can apply right now for paid leave through the CT Paid Leave Authority at ctpaidleave.org or call (877) 499-8606. To learn more about your rights and get some more advocacy resources for you or someone in your life that is in need of paid leave, visit the Campaign for Paid Family Leave at paidfamilyleavect.org.
Through my work as the Policy and Program Coordinator for the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), the chair of the Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave, which successfully won passage of Connecticut’s paid leave program in 2019, I’ve been working to make sure each and every Connecticut resident knows their rights when it comes to accessing this program.
We’re living through a historic period. With a public health crisis that has led to the Great Resignation, paid leave is one of many opportunities we can be offering workers in our nation, and with its comprehensive paid leave program, Connecticut is setting an example for how paid leave can happen on a national scale. But paid leave is a puzzle piece to a much larger systemic conversation.
The work doesn’t end here as we continue to fight for worker’s rights including livable wages, fair work schedules, closing gender and racial wage gaps, and plenty of other employment necessities. It’s up to all of us to share the good news about paid leave with our friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and everyone else in our networks so they too can know how to access it when they need it.
The past two years have shown us that life can change at the blink of an eye. We never know when we’ll need to use this program, so it’s crucial that we learn about it now before the unexpected occurs.
Paid leave in Connecticut has come at a time when family is most celebrated —an incredible way to ring in 2022. Because no one should have to choose between a paycheck and caring for themselves or family. If we make sure folks know their rights, soon they won’t have to.
Nicole Sanclemente is the Policy and Program Coordinator for the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF).