By Jo Shifrin
When I discovered an 18-inch hole in my mother-in-law’s wall, I realized she could no longer live alone: A swarm of termites had eaten through the exterior wall of her home, and she had not even noticed.
My husband and I brought her home to live with us, but her health began to quickly decline and I found myself unable to maintain a full time job and to care for her. My employer didn’t have a paid family and medical leave policy, so I left my job to care for her. We were fortunate that we could manage on my husband’s income alone. Many Marylanders in my position would have had to make an impossible choice between caring for her and being able to pay the bills.
That’s why I was so disappointed that the Time To Care Act, Maryland’s paid family and medical leave bill, did not even receive a committee vote in the General Assembly this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the urgent need for paid family leave in Maryland, but even in non-pandemic times, we all need to stay home from work sometimes to care for an elderly parent, or a new child, or to recover from an illness or injury ourselves. As a volunteer leader with Jews United for Justice, I have been working since 2019 to pass a paid family and medical leave law in Maryland like the one that so many JUFJers fought to pass in Washington, D.C. five years ago. At JUFJ, we recognize that caring for each other’s well-being is a fundamental Jewish value and a core teaching of Rabbi Hillel.
After my mother-in-law died, I went back to work full-time. Then, 13 years later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I received chemotherapy every two weeks, which made me very sick for 11 or 12 days, and it was nearly impossible for me to work for several months. At the same time, a single mother who lived near me had the same diagnosis, but because she didn’t have the support she needed to take time off from work — support that the Time to Care Act would have provided — she continued to work during her treatment. She never had the chance to rest and recover.
A few months later, as I was getting back on my feet and returning to work, I learned that she had died.
The Time to Care Act would have lessened the financial burden of this terrible illness, and she might not have had to work through the treatment. I don’t know if she would have survived, but at least she would not have had to go to work sick from chemo, sick from cancer and unable to spend that time with her children at the end of her life.
The Time to Care Act would provide working families in our state with the basic human dignity of caring for each other when we need to, instead of just worrying about paying the bills. A public paid family and medical leave program helps sick people, caregivers, new parents, small businesses, self-employed people and so many others.
JUFJ understands how important it is to care for our families, our communities and ourselves, and that we must make sure that all people can take the time they need to be with their families and attend to their own health. Alongside our partners from across Maryland, JUFJ will continue to call on our legislators, including House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, to make this legislation a top priority for the 2022 legislative session. The time I took to care for my mother-in-law, and then for myself, is time that all of us should have.
Jo Shifrin is a volunteer leader with Jews United for Justice, which is a member of the Time to Care Coalition.