The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare many of the inequities that already existed in our state. People of color were more likely to die from the virus, and more likely to face financial hardships. As our state moves toward recovering from the pandemic, we must embrace policies that will assure everyone has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This includes being able to take the time to recover from an illness or care for a sick loved one without facing severe financial consequences.
By many measures, Connecticut is one of the nation’s healthiest and wealthiest states. Yet a closer look at health data reveals major disparities in health by race and ethnicity. For example, babies born to Black mothers in Connecticut are more than four times as likely to die before their first birthday than babies born to white mothers. Black residents are nearly four times as likely as white residents to have a diabetes-related lower-extremity amputation, and more than twice as likely to die from diabetes. Compared to their white peers, Black children and teens are nearly 5½ times more likely to go to the emergency department because of asthma, while Hispanic children and teens are 4½ times as likely. Black men are nearly twice as likely to die from prostate cancer as white men.
Health challenges also bring economic challenges, as people face the prospect of missing work to get treatment, recovery, or care for a loved one. The economic disruption from illness can be especially devastating for people of color, who are more likely than their white peers to face precarious financial circumstances rooted in generations of discriminatory policies that made it nearly impossible for families of color to build wealth in the same way white families could.
Addressing the roots of these health and economic disparities is long-term work, but Connecticut can be proud of taking a key step that can help people today. Through Connecticut’s Paid Leave Authority, the state now has a way to provide financial relief for those who need to take time off work because of a severe illness or injury, or to care for a family member. Benefits are also available to many including new parents (whether by pregnancy, adoption, or foster care), family of members of the military injured during federal active duty or who have been notified of an impending call to federal active duty, victims of domestic violence, or individuals participating in organ or bone marrow donation.
Again, the pandemic taught us many lessons including the importance of being able to take time off from work when you’re sick or caring for a loved one. Yet not everyone has access to paid time off through their employers.
Even though Connecticut’s paid leave only recently began operating, already more than 20,000 people have filed claims, which demonstrates how needed these benefits are in the state.
Connecticut’s paid leave program is one step toward allowing everyone the opportunity to prioritize their health and their family’s health. To learn more about these benefits, please visit ctpaidleave.org.
Tiffany Donelson is President and CEO of the Connecticut Health Foundation.