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While Caring for a Pre-schooler and a Preemie, She Just Needed SomeHelp

February 15, 2022

When Ashley had her daughter six years ago, she didn’t have family or friends who could offer support as she recovered from a cesarean section and tried to meet the infant’s needs.

“It was just me and her dad – and he had a job with crazy hours. He couldn’t take time off to be there with us,” she said. “He had to work extra hard to afford the new baby. … I just had to do everything myself.”

When the couple had their second child four years later, the experience was even harder. Unexpectedly born weeks early, Ashley’s son needed to spend two months in the neonatal intensive care unit. Now two years later, she still remembers the difficulty of juggling her daughter’s school schedule and daily visits to the hospital to see her newborn – all while recovering from her second C-section. As much as the children’s father wanted to help, he was in a new job, working contract security, and could not miss work.

“He had to work all these hours and couldn’t take time off,” said Ashley, a 30-year-old Baltimore City resident. “Not being able to drive at the time, I had to find someone to drive me to the hospital and get [my daughter] to school. If he was home, he could have done one. It would have made it so much easier.”

This is the kind of story that drives the supporters of the Time to Care Act, proposed legislation that would provide paid family and medical leave for Maryland workers. A key priority for Catholic Charities and a broad coalition of partners, the bill requires both employers and employees to pay into an insurance pool. Workers needing to take time off to care for themselves or their loved ones would have a portion of their salary covered through the pooled funding for up to 12 weeks.

Part of a broader effort

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act protects the jobs of certain workers who need to take time off to care for themselves or a loved one, but that leave is unpaid. At a recent briefing hosted with the Maryland Catholic Labor Network, Lisa Klingenmaier, Catholic Charities’ assistant director of advocacy, explained that across the U.S., fewer than 40% of workers have access to paid leave for short-term disabilities, and just 17% have access to paid family leave.

Under the Time to Care Act, a worker’s benefit would be determined by their weekly wage, with low-income earners receiving a greater percentage of their income. The approach aligns with legislation already adopted by nine states and Washington, D.C.

Terry Cavanagh, the executive director of the SEIU Maryland and D.C. State Council and a member of the St. Ignatius Catholic Community in Baltimore City, described the effort as “part of a broad social safety net.”

“I would compare it on a broad scale to something like Social Security, which unions have supported since 1935,” he said at the briefing, adding that recent successes in enacting paid sick leave and a $15 per hour minimum wage are also vitally important for Maryland workers.

Time to Pass Time to Care

Delegate Kriselda Valderrama, a sponsor of the legislation, said this fight is personal for her. When working for a former employer, she had to use an “extensive amount” of her accrued sick and vacation leave to care for her ailing mother, who later passed away. When a supervisor called her in to question her use of the leave, Valderrama realized no one should have to go through that to care for a family member.

While she has been part of the effort to pass this legislation since it was first introduced in 2019, Valderrama said the COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored the need for this legislation.

Catholic Charities Director of Advocacy Regan Vaughan pointed to several ways supporters can help ensure the bill passes this year, including: following the Time to Care coalition on social media (@timetocaremd); joining the coalition’s mailing list; contacting legislators to express support; and attending an in-person rally in Annapolis, Md., on Feb. 21 (details available here).

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