It’s time for New Mexico to offer Paid Family and Medical Leave
I had just given birth to a boy. And like any mother, I expected him to be healthy, beautiful, and thriving. Instead, my new son was having trouble breathing. He was immediately taken to the NICU to undergo testing and support his breathing, for a total of 23 days. After that he would be discharged and sent home on oxygen support until he was three months old. His life revolved around a 25 foot cord for his oxygen and he wore a monitor on his foot that would beep at all hours of the day and night if his oxygen saturation would go below 95 percent.
Unlike most working families in New Mexico, I was lucky enough to have an employer that allowed me to take up to 10 weeks off for maternity leave, the first two weeks were paid, and for the rest I was allowed to use sick leave and vacation time to cover the cost of time off. I was able to cover a total of 6 paid weeks, the rest were unpaid. I was fortunate to also be granted 2 extra weeks unpaid leave to ensure our son was off the oxygen support so I had one less thing to worry about. I am forever grateful that I had a way to take the time off needed for my family knowing my job was secure. But it was not easy knowing there were income gaps for me and especially my husband who was on unpaid leave during this time.
I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if I wasn’t able to take those twelve weeks off. I could only imagine the struggle it would’ve been to be working and knowing my baby was in the NICU. I would’ve had to consider quitting my job and losing a secure income source so that I could ensure I was bonding with my baby as much as I could.
People should be able to have a safety net that is provided by Paid Family & Medical Leave allowing them to prioritize the health and well-being of their families without worrying about their income if an unexpected life event happens. PFML would cover many life events like bonding with a new child, undergoing medical treatment, and caring for a family member. PFML is long overdue in New Mexico but steps are being taken to get us closer.
What is being proposed in New Mexico is establishing a PFML trust fund, a system where employers and workers contribute approximately $2 to $6 per week, ensuring up to 12 weeks of Paid Family Medical Leave for situations not covered by regular PTO and Sick Leave. This fund would be administered by the NM Department of Workforce Solutions.
The truth is life is unpredictable, something may come up where extended time off of work is needed to care for one's health, or the health of a family member. Having a sense of security knowing you not only can keep your job if you need to utilize PFML but that you can be paid up to 12 weeks will contribute to the well-being of our communities.
Candace Cichuniec is the Program & Operations Coordinator for Ngage New Mexico in Las Cruces, NM.