Home / World News / Like thousands of Coloradans, I needed paid family leave and didn’t have it

Like thousands of Coloradans, I needed paid family leave and didn’t have it

I went into labor with my son when I was at work, just shy of two months before his due date. He was born preterm by emergency cesarean section and spent a grueling month in the neonatal intensive care unit. Like most Americans, my employer did not offer paid family leave with my benefits package. As a result, I was forced to use the entirety of my vacation and sick time to be by my son’s side every day while he was in the hospital. Nearly a month after his birth, my son was released from the hospital but continued to be connected to a breathing and heart monitor. My job was still waiting for me, but I was no longer receiving any pay, and I had no sick days left to use for his numerous doctor’s appointments.

Far too many moms and families in Colorado and across the country have similar stories. We’re forced to pick between taking care of our loved ones and making a living. Colorado lawmakers have a chance to consider the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) Act again. I hope this time our representatives will vote in favor of the legislation that will strengthen Colorado families like mine and the state’s whole economy.

When Congress passed the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) nearly 25 years ago it was meant to be the first — not the only — step toward greater financial stability for millions of American families. It gave some of us job protection, but no pay, to take leave for a serious illness or to care for a new child or a sick or aging family member. And as far as first steps go, it has helped many families. In fact, the FMLA has benefited people over 200 million times.

But the truth is that the FMLA doesn’t go far enough. Today only 60 percent of employees are eligible to use FMLA and many who are eligible for FMLA are unable to use it because they cannot afford to take unpaid time away from work. In Colorado, 88 percent of workers don’t have access to paid family leave through their employers. The FMLA was a great starting point for American families — now we need to move beyond the starting point and the Colorado FAMLI Act is a good next step.

The FAMLI Act will help keep working people secure in their jobs while allowing them to meet the dual responsibilities many of us face. Whether it’s to care for a newborn, a mom who is severely ill, or a spouse battling cancer, being there for family shouldn’t mean having to make a choice between your family and your job. Lack of paid, job-protected leave is why one in four new mothers is back at work within 10 days of giving birth and why one in five retirees leaves the workforce earlier than planned to care for a spouse or loved one.

We require a robust and comprehensive paid family and medical leave program that covers all caregiving needs, not just new parents. The FAMLI Act will go beyond parental leave and help the 57 percent of people who take unpaid leave due to their own illness, the 19 percent to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, and the 22 percent for a new child. It is worth pausing to note that more than half of people who take leave do so for self-care. With our rapidly aging population, more and more people are sandwiched between caring for their children and their aging parents.

Beyond the obvious benefits to families, paid leave is good for business and the economy, too. When families are more financially secure, they are able to be more productive and put more money back into their local economies.

After the birth of my son and his long stay in the hospital, my family’s finances were already too depleted to hire the outside childcare that he would require. I knew my only option was to quit my job and stay at home with my son. It wasn’t an option that I wanted to take, and having access to paid family leave would have provided my family with much needed security and flexibility during the difficult first year of our son’s life. I might have been able to stay in my job and continue to bring in income to help lessen the financial burden.

No one should have to choose between losing their job or taking care of a child, sick family member, or elderly parent. Yet like in my case, many of us face that exact choice despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe this to be true. More than 80 percent of voters are in favor of paid family and medical leave, including 95 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans. The FAMLI Act will strengthen Colorado families and caregivers and with benefits like increased economic security, improved infant health, and stronger family bonds, it should be a no-brainer for our state lawmakers to pass the FAMLI Act and future paid leave policies.

Jonna Ashley is a mother of one toddler in Denver, CO and a MomsRising Colorado member.

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