Activists hold up their banners as the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during the Paid Leave for All rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Credit: Jose Luis Magana / AP

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Jimmy McHugh of Mexico is a retired Local 29 Boilermaker union member.

As the Maine economy and Maine schools begin to reopen, new challenges have begun to emerge for our state’s workforce. As so many of us are going back to work, many struggle with how to be present for their job and still care for the children and other family members who need their support as we all continue to navigate the pandemic.

For some, this decision to return to work or stay home with loved ones is an impossible choice.

This is especially true for older Mainers, who have been hit hard by the pandemic. Of the 969 COVID-related deaths in Maine, only 80 of those deaths were people under 60. As one of the oldest states in the country, it is vital that we have protections for the most vulnerable in our workforce.

We need a paid family and medical leave policy to ensure that Mainers no longer have to make these impossible choices. During this past legislative session the Maine legislature passed a resolve to create a commission to develop a paid and family medical leave program. The bill, LD 1559, was sponsored by Sen. Matthea Daughtry. Although this resolve is in law, a paid and family medical leave program is not yet in place. It is important to continue to shed light on this issue until real concrete change is enacted.

Thankfully, the Biden administration is taking steps to institute a paid family and medical leave program for all Mainers. Under the paid leave proposal in the American Families Plan, caregivers would be entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave per year to care for children, other family members, or for personal care. This would ensure that American workers are no longer forced to sacrifice the wellbeing of their families and themselves.

Should America ever have to endure another year like 2020, this legislation would ensure that the burden of balancing work and caregiving felt by so many would be one less thing to worry about.

Now is the time for our representatives in Washington to step up for the people of Maine and support this critical issue. With the effects of the pandemic still being felt across the state, the state’s workforce needs the help and stability to move forward.

I urge Rep. Jared Golden to listen to Mainers on both sides of the aisle and support the creation of the first-ever national paid family and medical leave program to ensure that Maine’s workforce remains strong for years to come.