by Ilhan Omar
Saturday, March 19, 2016
Today, countless Minnesota parents rose before dawn to get their kids ready for school. They fixed breakfast, made sure teeth were brushed, and dropped young children off at daycare — all before mom or dad headed off to put in a full day’s work of their own.
But some working families had even more stressful mornings. Some parents couldn’t afford to feed their children breakfast. Some parents frantically called friends and family to watch their young children because they couldn’t pay for daycare this week. Some parents rose with a dreadful cold, but trekked to work anyway rather than lose a day’s pay.
Hard working Minnesota families have made our state economy one of the strongest in the nation, but the system is rigged against them. Parents who earn minimum wage can’t afford to pay for childcare in Minnesota, which is among the most expensive in the nation. Parents who take time off of work to care for their children risk being fired. And if parents reach out for support, the demand for government assistance is always greater than the need.
Recently, a group of DFL legislators announced the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, which would guarantee all workers in Minnesota 12 weeks of paid leave for pregnancy and medical issues and would also offer 12 weeks to care for a new child or an ill family member. If successful, this proposal would be a tremendous step forward for Minnesota families. But it’s not enough. Being a parent is a job that lasts longer than 12 weeks. To create a viable middle class, Minnesota needs to create a holistic support system for working families that will allow our economy to grow and prosper.
People of color are the fastest growing segment of our population. We are raising our families and trying to achieve economic security, but it is almost impossible under our current system. We need to get serious about increasing the minimum wage, creating affordable childcare programs, and flexible scheduling. We need to guarantee paid sick time and paid parental leave. Unions should be allowed to collectively bargain, so workers can advocate for their needs without fear of employer retaliation.
It’s a long list, but I believe that our families are worth fighting for. Minnesota has a $900 million surplus and yet we currently place little value on the contributions of working family members. Our state’s economy will falter if we don’t provide support for them. Legislation to improve working conditions has been proposed countless times at both the city and state level, but has always failed. This needs to change now and we have the opportunity to change it this session.
As a mom of three, a Basic Sliding Fee Child Care program, which helps job-seeking families pay for childcare, would have helped me tremendously as a young parent. Guaranteed paid sick leave would have given our family peace of mind during the inevitable winter cold season. If I had paid parental leave, I wouldn’t have worried about how I was going to pay the bills after my children were born. My story — and the stories of the countless other working parents within our community — needs to be heard.
I hope that the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, which will provide support that working families desperately need, will succeed in the legislature. Hardworking families are the heart of Minnesota’s tight-knit communities. In order to build prosperous communities and an inclusive and equitable economy, the legislature must prioritize our needs.
Ilhan Omar is running for State Representative in District 60-B.