Imagine that you just left a violent and abusive marriage. Your house is foreclosed on and you end up being homeless. You don’t have a lot of support because you moved here from Venezuela and don’t have any family here. You work hard to rebuild your life and then you get a call from back home. Your father died and your 71-year-old mother who is living with advanced multiple sclerosis and is wheelchair bound needs you. You get the money together working three jobs and bring her to Colorado to live with you.
This is not just a story – it is my story. We lived simply in a rundown garage-turned-into-a-studio apartment. I remember the bathroom didn’t have a door, and the most expensive thing in our place was the hospital bed that I bought second-hand for my mom after scraping together about $300. It was a labor of love.
We processed Teo’s petition to become a legal permanent resident, but as LPRs we are not eligible for public supports because we are not citizens. My mother cannot work, but our one-income household is above the poverty line and so we are not eligible for programs designed to aid low-income communities.
I am unable to add my mother to my employer sponsored health plan. Even though she is 100% dependent on me, she is not eligible for health coverage through my insurance because the only dependents that qualify are children and spouses. There is also a waiting period of five years for Medicaid eligibility for residents.
My mother is nearly paraplegic, so the only things she is able to do on her own is to brush her teeth and feed herself. She is in need of a lot of care just to function on a daily basis. That means I juggle bathing, diapering, clothing, and feeding before and after my work hours. I also provide paid homecare during the hours I am not at home. I spend upwards of $1,000 per month to have part-time homecare to ensure that my mother has a caregiver while I am at work.
I have worked hard to care for my mother. I am responsible for her life and her health. I would not change that. I feel honored to be able to provide this for the woman who raised me and supported me all my life, but it is that much harder for families like mine when we are faced with losing much needed income when we are denied wages in order to care for a loved one. My mother’s condition requires that I make sure she gets to her doctor’s appointments to manage her health. It seems like a simple thing to make sure that I don’t have to choose between the paycheck I need to make ends meet and the commitment I have made to be there for my disabled parent.
It is estimated that more than 4 million people in the United States are caring for an older loved one. Caregiving is one of the most important roles someone can undertake, but it is not easy. It comes with significant financial, physical and emotional burdens. The least we can do is advance policy solutions to ensure families are able to live up to the commitment they have made to their families and to help their loved ones to lead healthier lives.
Do we really think it is ok to make people choose between taking a family member to the doctor if they are sick of hurt and being able to make ends meet that month? That is why I am proud to work with organizations who are advancing House Bill 1307, the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act (FAMLI). This bill is simple – people pay into family leave insurance so that when they need it – when they need to be there for someone they care about that they can do so without having to choose between paying rent, buying groceries and having the phone turned off. When I was scraping together the funds I needed to pull myself together after surviving abuse and working so diligently to bring my mother here and care for her, I had to make those kinds of choices. But this is not a position that we should put people in. We can do better. We can do more. This bill an important start.
I hope that when lawmakers consider this legislation they will think about me and my mother. I hope they will think about people who are simply trying to be there for their family.
Victoria Gómez Betancourt is a reproductive justice advocate and abortion positive artivist from Caracas, Venezuela.