Commentary

All Arizonans deserve paid leave, not the impossible choices we have now

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As Christians, we are called to live out our values which include care for one another, especially our family. The Gospel story centers on a family, the birth of a young child who needed to be cared for by his parents, demonstrating the sacredness of the place of the family, whether through adoption or birth. As an adult, Jesus Christ healed people who were sick or dying, often due to the faith and persistence of family members who tended to them and sought out healing. His life and teachings call us to do everything we can as a community to reflect his example, including public policy advocacy.

Government budgets are moral documents through which our values and beliefs as a country are put into practice. But for years, we — as a nation and a community — have fallen short in our support for caregiving and caregivers. Too many people are forced to make impossible choices between caring for their family or keeping a job, putting their economic stability at risk.  The lack of strong policies to address care needs creates huge gaps for families that they alone must fill. 

This pandemic has placed a magnifying glass on the gaps in our moral economy and exposed the systemic racism, classism, and sexism that is entrenched in our society.

– Rev. Erin Tamayo and Alicia Contreras

One area where we must do better is paid family and medical leave. Currently, only a handful of states guarantee access to some form of paid family and/or medical leave. In Arizona, even unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is inaccessible for 63% of working people. 

Our communities are fighting to survive, and paid leave for all will allow Arizonans to thrive. That’s why we are calling on U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema to support a national paid leave program as part of Congress’ current budget negotiations. 

Paid leave for all would have wide-ranging benefits for Arizona, from boosting our economy to improving employee retention. Perhaps most importantly, ensuring paid leave for all would prevent Arizonans from having to choose between their families and financial stability. More than 79,300 children are born in Arizona each year, and in 66% of Arizona households with children – more than 1 million homes – both parents have paying jobs.

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A lack of paid leave has affected both of our lives personally. I (Contreras) was working from the hospital while my mother was battling cancer and recovering from major surgery on her spine. I (Tamayo), as the mother of two young children, know the difficulty of balancing work responsibilities while tending to the unpredictability of health emergencies. For this reason, I left a fulfilling career in 2017, and have only recently returned to work on a part-time basis. Paid Leave for All would have provided the possibility for both of us to care for our families and ourselves while not having to sacrifice our careers.

Members of our faith communities have expressed similar concerns. During 2020, Corazón and other nonprofits supported community members with small COVID-19 relief funds for those most impacted by the pandemic. Sara, a community member in Tempe, experienced extreme hardships in August and was afraid to take the necessary time to quarantine for fear of losing her job. We were heartbroken to learn that she contracted COVID-19 and died in November 2020. Her husband is now left alone to care for their children while struggling to make ends meet. 

This pandemic has placed a magnifying glass on the gaps in our moral economy and exposed the systemic racism, classism, and sexism that is entrenched in our society. For our entire nation to thrive, we must support policies like childcare and paid family leave that center the real needs of working people.

We hope and pray that Senators Kelly and Sinema will support paid leave for all, which will be transformational for all Arizonans.

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Rev. Erin Tamayo
Rev. Erin Tamayo

Rev. Erin Tamayo is a Presbyterian minister and the former executive director of the Arizona Faith Network.

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Alicia Contreras
Alicia Contreras

Alicia Contreras is the executive director of Corazón, the Arizona federation of Faith in Action.

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