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Work or Wellness? A Barrier-Breaking New Law Means Less Need toChoose

April 19, 2022

Workers who have struggled to balance the needs of their families with economic stability will have additional protections available to them now that the Maryland General Assembly passed the historic Time to Care Act.

Advocacy for paid family and medical leave has been a key priority for Catholic Charities and a broad coalition of partners, who have been working to bring it to reality in Maryland for nearly a decade.

While this new law is of significant help for neighbors supported with services, Catholic Charities Director of Advocacy Regan Vaughan said that the experience of many families during the COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced the importance of paid family and medical leave in our state.

“COVID forced many of us to re-examine our priorities, and there is a broader recognition that employees face family challenges outside of work,” Vaughan said. “We’ve seen many people leaving the workforce to care for parents and spouses during COVID. Women have left the workforce in droves at a time when we have a critical labor shortage. People don’t want to re-enter the workforce if they can’t take time when they need it.”

The new law will provide nearly all Maryland employees the right to 12–24 weeks of paid, job-protected leave so they can bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill loved one, deal with their own serious health needs, or address needs in connection with a military deployment. It’s a game-changer for those who, for example, have to choose between getting paid and caring for a sick child.

“I rarely work on a bill that touches on every Catholic Charities constituent group,” Vaughan said. “A resident in one of our senior communities who has a fall may need help from grown children so she can stay in her apartment rather than going into a nursing home to recover. A parent of a middle schooler with a behavioral health need may need time off for appointments and support during a time of crisis. A family with a health emergency that requires their primary earner to go on bed rest may be able to avoid an eviction. Families of individuals with developmental disabilities sometimes need time to care for loved ones.”

Vaughan said that the passage of the bill isn’t the end of the process. The coalition will continue to work on implementation to ensure that there are strong regulations and a program that will benefit Marylanders for generations to come.

The law covers nearly all employees in the state, regardless of employer size, and includes both full- and part-time workers in both the private and public sectors. The program will be funded by an insurance pool fueled by contributions by both employees and employers, similar to Social Security and Medicare.

The journey to the Time to Care Act of 2022 began with a 2013 study on creating disability insurance in Maryland. A bill was first introduced in 2015, leading to a task force to study the issue, whose 2017 report informed the Time to Care Act. The bill was introduced and died in committee first in 2019, then again in 2020 and 2021.