Ask the majority of Americans what matters most to them in their lives and they’ll generally say their families.

But most states and workplaces do not have paid family and medical leave policies, making it difficult — if not impossible — for many American workers to take off time to care for newborn infants, ailing spouses, elderly relatives or their own health challenges. In fact, the United States is one of only a handful of countries that does not mandate paid family leave.

The grassroots nonprofit Jews United for Justice-Baltimore is among the groups fighting for legislation that would change that for Maryland families.

Last Sunday afternoon, Jan. 19, JUFJ hosted a screening of  “Zero Weeks,” an award-winning 2017 documentary by Chicago-based filmmaker Ky Dickens about the care-giving crisis in the U.S. The event took place at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

Besides JUFJ, the screening was co-sponsored by BHC, the Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah, Beth Am Synagogue, BHC Justice, Bolton Street Synagogue, Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Chevrei Tzedek Congregation, Congregation Beit Tikvah, and Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation.

The screening was in honor of the national observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 20. Following the film presentation, a panel discussion and Q&A session featured Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-40th) and Del. Ariana Kelly (D-16th), sponsors of the Maryland Time To Care Act.

Molly Amster, director of the Baltimore branch of Jews United for Justice: “Support for the act crosses party lines, and 86 percent of Marylanders support having an insurance program for family leave,”

If passed during this year’s General Assembly legislative session, the act would provide paid family leave to Marylanders for up to 12 weeks.

Joanna Blotner, campaign manager for JUFJ-D.C., who led the successful family leave campaign in the nation’s capital, also spoke at the event. 

According to the Maryland Family Network, only 17 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave and less than 40 percent of workers have paid leave for short-term disability.

“Many women who have a baby return to work in 10 days or less,” said Molly Amster, director of the JUFJ Baltimore branch. “If people don’t have any time off after a major medical trauma [like childbirth], that’s bad for them and bad for the new humans they’re bringing into the world.”

Amster said Marylanders overwhelmingly support the Time to Care Act. The act offers family leave with an insurance fund to which employees and employers would contribute. According to the Maryland Family Network, the average weekly contributions would be $5.13, or 0.46 percent of payroll.

“Support for the act crosses party lines, and 86 percent of Marylanders support having an insurance program for family leave,” said Amster. “Even when they are told how much it would cost, 79 percent still support it.”

Amster said the concept of paid family and medical leave conforms with Jewish values and ideals.

“When you look at [the family leave issue] as a Jewish value, the Talmud tells us that anyone who withholds an employee’s wage, it is as though he has taken her life from her,’” Amster said. “And Rabbi Hillel teaches that we can’t separate ourselves from our community; we all have a responsibility for each other’s care. We have to make sure that people can take time to care of their families and their own health.”

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