Dear President Obama:
On May 12, 2014, I had the pleasure of attending the White House Summit on Working Families Regional Forum in New York City. There, Valerie Jarrett shared a story of a mother who took her child to a job interview. To my delight, Mr. President, I listened in awe as you shared the same story at the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington DC. I sincerely thank you for all of your efforts and the hard work of your administration in reinforcing the importance of making family values a priority in American society and the workplace through supporting workplace equality, affordable childcare, expanding workplace flexibility and paid sick leave.
I would like to share a short story with you about a young, single mother who was forced to choose her job over her family’s dire health care needs. This 22 year old young woman called her employer, a major retail chain, to advise them that she and her 6 year old son were sick; therefore, she was not able to work regretfully accepting the financial burden of losing a paid work day. Her employer barked, “If you don’t come in to work today, don’t come to work at all.” Living approximately 21 miles from her job, and out of desperation, the young mother traveled 3 bus routes and 2 and ½ hours to work with her sick child. As her son sat in an office chair completely drained, the young lady’s employer chastised her for bringing the child with her and demanded that she not return for 2 days at the risk that she may have exposed other employees to the viral infection that she and her child obviously carried.
Mr. President, twenty-two years ago, this was my story. My situation has changed, I have been married 18 years and am now the mother to 5 beautiful children; Bashir 28, Abdul-Salaam 18, Sufyaan 16, Aatikah 15 and Isa 11. Having 3 sons on the autism spectrum still puts me in the same dilemma of choosing my children’s health care needs over a paycheck. There is no way around the fact that when I take time off to care for myself or my family, I lose work hours. Stories of American families like mine are endless.
As a part-time counselor for special needs families, I hear the daily outcry of people who are afraid to take care of themselves. As a disability rights advocate, I watch people struggle with finding adequate employment where there is equal pay, flexibility and paid leave so that they can care for their loved ones. No parent, no advocate, no caregiver should ever have to choose their welfare over the welfare of others due to the fear of losing wages or work hours. Such pressures leave American citizens having to cope with mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health care crises.
During your tenure as President of the United States of America, in 6 years, you have achieved many successes with such legislation as the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and the Affordable Care Act. Millions of Americans have new coverage through the law, and millions more have new rights and protections in the workplace. For that, I say thank you to the current administration for fulfilling your promise to Americans. It is now time for employers to do their part. Passing the Healthy Families Act legislation would ensure the implementation of such a necessary and basic right, and in tandem with the Affordable Care Act, US citizens would be on the road to becoming more holistically healthy; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. No more trifling with the stress of missing work or having to take an unpaid work day or not being able to visit a doctor because you are uninsured, under-insured or you simply cannot afford the co-pay – because of a lost paycheck.
And President Obama, we have to face facts, people just are not taking care of themselves; not because they do not want to, it is because they cannot afford to. They cannot afford to utilize the gracious health insurances available. Simply stated, people cannot take advantage of the health care benefits available to them because they cannot afford to take a day off.
I am in complete support of the Healthy Families Act that would provide Americans the right to earn paid sick leave and I am elated that your Administration has been so responsible and progressive in seeking to have such laws passed.
If we create a culture that is family friendly, workplace equality and embracing family values will come easy.
East Orange, NJ