When I was a sophomore in high school, my dad had a fall in the middle of the night. He was conscious, said he was fine, he would just take the day to rest. By the late afternoon when my mom checked on him, his pupils were dilated and he couldn’t squeeze her hands. We called 911. The EMTs decided to take him to the level one trauma center rather than a closer Emergency Room.
After testing, we found out he had a shattered pelvis and a bleed in his brain. He was in the Intensive Care Unit and then on the regular floor for two or three months. My mom stayed with him often, but after the first few weeks, she needed to return to work. Our family couldn’t get by with both of my parents out of work.
I remember this time not only because of my dad being in the hospital, but because of the financial struggles we began to have. At the time, I didn’t totally understand what was happening. We were a middle-class family, not particularly wealthy, but we always went out to dinner on birthdays and had a comfortable home. But then, not only were both my parents not working, but we were beginning to receive medical bills, which were not, by any means, affordable. I could feel the financial strain that was being put on my family.
After my dad was discharged, he was home for a period, but never fully recovered from his injuries and needed 24-hour medical care. Out of necessity, he was placed in a nursing home, which had even more costs.
My freshman year of college, I got a call in the middle of the night that my dad had passed away. My sister and I took time off of school and my mom requested time off of work for bereavement, but she had used up her FMLA time off.
A couple months later, my mom lost her job, where she had worked for over 20 years. They told her she had taken too much time off of work, had been too distracted at work, and wasn’t giving her job adequate attention. At that point, she was a single mom, without a job, with two children in college, alone in a big house she still had mortgage payments on.
My mom moved to a smaller house with a loan co-signed by her sister. She found a new, but lower-paying, job after months of searching. We made it through, but barely. Now, almost four years later, she’s just started to rebuild her savings. My sister and I are old enough to support ourselves, but I can’t imagine what life would be like if we were younger and dependent on our mom to support us. I also can’t imagine what might have happened if my mom had lost her job while my dad was still in the hospital.
Aside from worrying about my dad, the hardest part was seeing the financial burden that fell on my mom. If my mom had been able to still earn an income while she cared for my dad, at the hospital or at home, our experience would have been different.
Paid family and medical leave will help relieve the financial burden faced by families when illness strikes unexpectedly. Accidents, injuries, and illnesses happen. They’re unpredictable. The last thing any family needs is financial stress when a crisis strikes. Wondering if, or when a next paycheck will come is an added, unnecessary stress that can impact the physical and emotional health of caregivers.
A paid family and medical leave program must provide high wage replacement to prevent families from worrying about their paying their bills while out on leave and must also provide workers the peace of mind of knowing that their job will be there when they come back to work. Paid family and medical leave is a vital component to a well-functioning workforce and is well worth supporting and enacting here in Connecticut.
Stephanie Doran is a Master’s of Public Health student at Yale University.