I spent most of 2018 running for office because I saw firsthand in my work how incremental change will never alleviate poverty. It will never create economic justice. I ran as a Democrat because I was told that taking bold action on $15 minimum wage and paid family and medical leave insurance were integral aspects of the party platform for the biennium ahead. Though I didn’t win, I breathed a sigh of relief watching the election results come in from around the state as I knew it meant help for those who needed it most was on the way.
Three months later, my family’s life changed in an instant. A slip and fall on the ice left me with what might be a lifelong disability. From the start I knew how fortunate we were. We had decent healthcare coverage. My husband had access to sick time to help take care of me. I had disability insurance coverage through my employer. If we wouldn’t have had this, it would have been a quick road to bankruptcy. Instead we have the privilege of a slower road to bankruptcy. This is what the current version of H.107, Vermont’s paid family and medical leave bill, will afford Vermonters: a slower road to bankruptcy. If it passes, Vermont will be the only state with a family and medical leave insurance program that doesn’t universally provide coverage for people to take care of their own injury or illness (which comprise the majority of claims in other states). And perhaps worse yet, it will create a privatized program.
As the medical bills piled on and my husband quickly drained his leave driving me to my 60 plus appointments, I was spending what should have been my time to recover and heal fighting with my private disability insurance company for the coverage I was due. The coverage that had been paid for. I am told that everyone gets denied initially. I am told that the appeals process can drag on for many months. I am told that they have a team of lawyers on staff ready to fight to protect the company’s bottom line of protecting their profits at all costs. This is why a publicly administered, not-for-profit program is needed. I am also being told that today will be a "tough vote", and isn’t it better to pass a half empty paid family and medical leave bill than none at all? And that, on the heels of this tough vote, Friday’s minimum wage increase will also be a "tough vote" (as $12.55 in 2022 is a far cry from $15 in 2020), but isn’t an incremental step in the right direction better than no step at all?
Unfortunately the majority of folks who will be most impacted by these votes don’t have the luxury of time and bandwidth to call their elected officials to voice their concern this week. But as I knocked doors throughout the district with other candidates—some of whom will be casting those tough votes this week—we heard people loud and clear as they shared their stories as they were dashing out to their second jobs, attempting to have conversations while juggling two little kids on their hips, telling us, with their oxygen masks still on, about their weekend trips to the ER. That needs to count for something. I’m tired of hearing legislators say they need people to support them by writing letters to the editor or making phone calls. People already gave you the gifts of sharing their stories and concerns. And in turn, promises were made. Votes were cast. Now is the time for legislators to support Vermonters. Not the other way around. "A slower road to bankruptcy for Vermonters”: it wouldn’t have made for very catchy campaign slogans back in 2018. But that’s what's being delivered (if we're lucky, I'm told...). And it's not alleviating poverty. It's not economic justice. To my friends casting these tough votes this week: I thank you for your public service. You signed up for tough work. And when you run for reelection, please just be honest. If your platform is slow, incremental change and compromise, then say so. But let's stop pretending that we will nickel and dime our way to an economy that works for everyone.