Ten years ago I was standing on a balcony, trying to coax my puppy, Sabrina, back inside. Sabrina was barking wildly, but not moving. As I stepped towards her, the balcony collapsed. I fell two stories, directly against a brick wall, and landed on cement stairs. Thankfully, for me, there had been a late spring snow that cushioned my fall. I broke a vertebra that day, but after a week in the hospital, three months in a body brace, and 6 months of physical therapy, you would never know how close I came to paralysis.
My husband and I had moved to Rhode Island just a couple of years before. We had some friends, but no family in the area and no support network in place to help with such an unexpected emergency. Honestly, it was just us: figuring out how to get me out of bed and showered, how to make sure my physical pain was managed, my mental health stayed intact, and how to pay the mortgage on the house we had just bought.
My husband’s employer allowed him some flexibility and time off, but as a young couple who had just spent all of our savings on a down payment, we could not afford for him to take an unpaid leave of absence. Unfortunately, that was our only option. When I look back at that time in our life, I think about how the level of stress of a fluke accident was only intensified by financial worries.
Somehow, we made it through, but knowing how close we came to financial disaster because of my own need for caretaking has made me acutely aware of what happens when a family member needs help. We all want to be there for our loved ones: our spouses, our domestic partners, our children, our parents. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us cannot afford unpaid leave and many of us in Rhode Island would not be able to qualify for leave under our existing federal and state laws even if we could.
I believe the root of this issue is not about labor costs or the impact on the economy, it is because we do not value caretaking. Yet, those policies do not reflect the changing roles of men and women in this world. Nearly half of all two-parent families have both parents in the workforce and an aging population is putting significant pressure on the “sandwich generation” to care for their parents and children at the same time.
Rhode Island is on the cutting edge of finding ways to deal with these life stressors.
For the past several months, the Women’s Policy Institute has been working on researching and drafting legislation modeled off of California and New Jersey’s paid family leave laws. In early March, Representative Elaine Coderre and Senator Rhoda Perry introduced bills (H 7862/S 2734) that, if passed, will amend Rhode Island’s existing Temporary Disability Insurance program to include coverage for caretaking of a loved one when they need you most.
In order to get this bill passed, we need your help. We need your stories. We need you to thank Representative Coderre and Senator Perry for their willingness to stand up for all families. And if you live or work in Rhode Island, we need you to call our state representatives and senators to let them know that the time has come to make Rhode Island a leader in our nation in supporting our workers. Find your state representatives at http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/.Contents of this blog constitute the opinion of the author, and the author alone; they do not represent the views and opinions of Women's Fund of Rhode Island.