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Faith leader to Congress: Pass child care and paid leave for all

By Allison Palm - Guest Columnist | Sep 25, 2021

As a New Hampshire faith leader, I’m grateful Congress is considering historic investments in care infrastructure. My family, my congregation, and this country have long needed these investments and I urge Senators Maggie Hassen and Jeanne Shaheen to support their passage.

As I write this op-ed from Nashua the gravity of this moment is not lost on me. The world continues to fight to keep the coronavirus pandemic at bay and the United States faces a deepened child care crisis alongside multiple fights for equity. In a moment like this, my faith and my love for my community compel me to write about the two investments currently being debated by Congress that I feel most passionate about – quality, accessible, affordable child care and a permanent and national paid family and medical leave program. These interconnected policies could change the lives of millions, my own included.

As a Unitarian Universalist, one of my core beliefs is in humanity’s interdependence. What affects one of us affects us all. This is true when it comes to raising children, building communities, and strengthening our country. Just as the pandemic has shown us how communities can come together in hard times, it has also spotlighted a need for collective solutions to our collective problems – not individual ones. This is why I’m excited about the potential passage of the Build Back Better Act.

The last time we had an opportunity like this was 50 years ago when President Nixon vetoed historic investments in child care and early education. Similarly, the U.S. has never had a permanent national paid leave policy, though it’s been sorely needed. Federal investments in child care and paid leave would take the burden off of individuals for subsidizing the economy and caring for loved ones – we can’t let these opportunities slip past us again

I’m a working parent with a demanding job. While my two young kids, ages 1 and 3, only attend child care three days a week at the most affordable place we could find, we still pay nearly as much for that as we do for housing. Across America, it’s a similar story. Though child care costs more than rent or in-state college tuition, early childhood educators earn less than $13 an hour on average and rarely have access to benefits. Child care workers are vastly underpaid and yet families can’t afford to pay more.

Since the 1990s, U.S. child care costs have grown at twice the rate of inflation. Families and caregivers continue to shoulder the burden of a child care crisis that costs the economy $57 billion a year in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue. Affordable, accessible child care is essential infrastructure for making our economy work, and to get there, we need government support.

We also need government support for permanent and national paid family and medical leave. Analysis by the Center for American Progress finds that workers and their families lose an estimated $22.5 million in wages each year due to a lack of paid family and medical leave. In my congregation, I’ve witnessed many people having to make really hard choices without adequate leave policies. I’ve seen people have to choose between being with a dying parent or saving the little sick time they have to be with a newborn. I’ve also been impacted. My baby recently got COVID which meant we had to isolate him for over a week and quarantine my daughter for 18 days. Though my husband and I are lucky to be able to work from home and to have generous and flexible employers, there are so many people who don’t.

Evidence has also shown that without paid sick leave, workers are more likely to go to work sick, causing contagious diseases to spread more quickly. We needed universal access to paid family and medical leave before the pandemic and it’s even more clear that we need it now. The Build Back Better Act could finally remove the unfair burden of making people choose between working and caring for their loved ones.

As Nashua and so many other places face labor shortages, including in care work, not passing the Build Back Better Act in full could only make the issues families face worse. Adequate wages for care workers, access to paid sick time, paid family medical leave and affordable child care could all help alleviate the challenges families and the U.S. at large are facing.

It’s time for Congress to make public investments in the care economy that go beyond pandemic relief. It’s time for Congress to show that they care about families and value care workers with the viable solutions that are on their desks. I hope and pray that Senators Hassan and Shaheen, as well as our state’s U.S. House members, will deliver these investments for our communities, their constituents, who so desperately need it.

Rev. Allison Palm has served as the minister of Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua since 2015.


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