The coronavirus is shaping the conversation about the need for paid family leave

Connecting the Dots – #YesThisIsAnArtsStory Repost from The Washington Post

Rebecca Gale | 23 October 2020

Paid family leave wasn’t an issue that Terrence Walker thought about much; his wife and son were healthy, and he had a good job as an administrative professional at Virginia Commonwealth University. But when his wife, Tracy, was suddenly diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in 2013, his entire world changed. For the next six years he was “walking a tightrope” in managing her care, treatments, surgeries and medications, all while working full time and caring for their son, all without a public paid-leave policy.

“It was piecemeal,” Walker said. “We were literally rationing out the time my employer gave to me.”

As a state employee, Walker had 200 hours of paid time off that he could use each year for personal and sick leave. Every time Tracy had a surgery or chemotherapy treatment, he had to balance caring for her against the available time he had to take off. The Walker family received its health insurance through his job, and when Tracy became too sick to work, Walker became the sole earner.

When something unexpected would come up, like when Walker needed to call an ambulance in the middle of the night for Tracy, he’d try to find family members to stay with her, or a neighbor to take his son to school, so that he could still make it to work and keep his job and health insurance.

When Tracy Walker passed away from colon cancer in July 2019, Walker’s colleagues donated leave so that he could take time off for the funeral and care for his son in the immediate aftermath of her death.