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This commentary is by Emilie Krasnow, a resident of South Burlington.

Looking to the future, we must make paid family and medical leave a reality for Vermont families and caregivers.

The positive impact of a comprehensive paid family medical leave bill on the lives of working Vermonters cannot be overstated. Vermonters across the state support this because they know it would grow our workforce, attract young people, and support working families. 

Paid family medical leave must be at the top of our federal agenda. Less than half — roughly 42% — of workers in the United States have access to paid medical leave. Most people who don’t have paid leave are people who are working in low-wage jobs, who have been trying to figure out how to work through this, and exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As Covid-19 ravages the country, people are choosing between losing wages to stay home and isolate, or go to work sick, exposing others to this virus, so they can continue to put food on their table. Parents whose children need to be out of school are forced to miss work, often without pay. The waitress at your favorite restaurant is choosing between coming back to work too early, or not being able to pay her rent. The domino effect of no federal paid family and medical leave is on full display right now.

My peers and I are considered the “sandwich generation,” defined as those who are caring for both parents and children. In order to care for both generations, adult children are forced to make difficult choices between saving for their own retirement, funding education or living expenses for their children, and paying for the health care needs of aging parents. 

Nationally, upward of 75% of all family caregivers are women, who often choose lower-paying and less fulfilling jobs so they have the time needed to care for their family. When I was 12, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During the 15 months of his illness, I watched my mother, sister and brother put their own lives on hold to care for him and his medical and physical needs. 

In 2018, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Now, at 36, I am making similar decisions in how I take on caretaking responsibilities and struggling to balance my career and personal ambitions with her needs. 

Caregiving can be a rewarding way to reconnect with a parent, and I am so grateful I have the flexibility to spend time with her, but for so many this is not an option. A recent study of cancer patients and survivors found that those who had access to paid family and medical leave were better able to complete their treatment and manage symptoms and side effects. 

As the coronavirus pandemic has made even clearer, workers should have access to comprehensive paid family and medical leave to care for themselves or a loved one without being faced with these impossible choices. 

Providing workers with paid leave is proven to improve labor force participation, earnings and economic security of all workers, especially women. Paid family medical leave could help close the gender gaps that are so costly to the economy in important ways. Research has shown that providing paid parental leave boosts women’s employment; in countries worldwide, mothers who have access to paid leave are more likely to remain in the labor force, work more hours and return to the same job.

While we need federal legislation, it’s important that we start here in Vermont.

I want to thank our Democratic legislators who worked hard on this bill. We cannot give up this fight. Working Vermonters are counting on us. As policymakers consider the various views about paid family leave, workers continue to face the challenge of balancing demands for work with the necessity to care for family members. 

Vermonters deserve to have the security of being able to care for a sick family member or care for themselves without fear of losing income or being fired.

We need to continue to develop policies that provide opportunities for Vermonters that will in turn strengthen our economy.

I am hopeful for the future of Vermont. Vermonters across the state overwhelmingly agree that we all need paid family and medical leave and it should be a high priority of the Vermont Legislature moving forward, as well as at the federal level. 

Emilie Krasnow: Covid emphasizes the need for paid family medical leave