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Opinion: Coloradans should be supported in caring for their families

From Denver to Durango, Colorado’s faith leaders see many in their congregations faced with the difficult decision between caring for seriously ill loved one and putting food on the table.

Far too many workers don’t have paid family and medical leave; in fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 87 percent of privately employed Coloradans still do not have paid family medical leave.

Amanda Henderson (Provided by Amanda Henderson)

Those of us who are pastors, rabbis, imams and other clergy see it every day — hard-working families struggling to make ends meet who are hit with a medical crisis. A pregnant woman on bed rest. A spouse diagnosed with cancer. A skier who blew out his knee. Just a week ago, I had to miss a week of work to care for my 12-year-old son after an emergency surgery.

Without wage replacement, some in this position find themselves unable to pay for necessities since many are already stretched thin paying medical bills. This is a critical position for Coloradans at all wage levels, and especially for low-wage earners. Paid family medical leave ensures financial stability for families dealing with these situations.

With nearly four out of five Americans living paycheck to paycheck, most of us know someone who literally won’t have enough in their bank account at the end of the month to pay rent if a family medical emergency takes them away from work. And many lose their jobs if they choose to care for a loved one rather than report to the workplace.

All of our religious traditions teach that we are connected and we should care for one another; it is a matter of basic human dignity. We have a moral imperative to make sure that every Coloradan has the opportunity to bond with a new baby, hold the hand of a dying parent or to care for a sick partner.

In spite of all of our differences, it seems like this is something we can agree on: Coloradans should be supported in caring for their families.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Coloradans need — and want — a long-term solution so workers can care for their families and keep their heads above water. Recent polling shows that two-thirds of Colorado voters and seven out of 10 small business owners in the state support the FAMLI Act.

Fortunately, our elected officials currently are debating the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) Act to solve this problem. Funded by a 60-40 split between employees and employers, it would set up an insurance fund to provide partial wage replacement in the event that a worker needed to take leave to care for a seriously ill family member, a new baby or their own significant illness.

For the cost of a cup of coffee per week, businesses and workers can fund this program that will save lives and keep families on the edge afloat financially.

At some point, everyone has a sick child, an aging parent, a new baby or a personal injury or illness. For many families, paid time off can make the difference between economic stability or eviction and hunger.

I’m so grateful that Gov. Jared Polis discussed his support for paid family leave in his State of the State address in January, but the bill needs to get to his desk. I urge our elected officials of all faiths to lead the way in creating communities where all can thrive — pass the FAMLI Act this legislative session.

Rev. Amanda Henderson is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister and the executive director of the  Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, an organization with Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and other members promoting justice, religious liberty and interfaith understanding in order to educate, advocate and catalyze social change.