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The Importance of Paid Leave: A Sibling Perspective

By Nayma Guerrero, Member of The Arc’s National Sibling Council

My family is everything.

Nayma and her family

My younger brother is 23 years old. He loves computer science, animation, and art and design. He also enjoys working out at the gym. Things are sometimes challenging for my brother, who has autism, intellectual disability, attention deficit disorder, and depression. Then there’s my sister. Like many 14 year olds, she loves the mall. She also plays soccer and basketball, and likes playing with her dolls. I admire my sister for sticking to it at school, despite having learning disabilities.

Like a lot of families, the day starts at my parents’ house in controlled chaos. My mother takes on what seems like the biggest challenge of the morning shared by moms everywhere: getting my brother and sister out of bed! A true supermom, my mother helps both of them get their school clothes together and makes sure they eat breakfast every day. She truly believes breakfast is the most important meal of the day. After they eat, my mother drives my brother and sister to school before taking care of the grocery shopping and errands.

Both of my parents are very hard workers and make sure my siblings’ needs are met every day. My father works fulltime, so my mom is usually the one who is taking care of my brother and sister.  My brother requires a lot of care, attention, and daily reminders to make sure he’s dressed, gets to school on time, and takes his medication.

A few years ago, my mother ended up in the emergency room. It turned out to be life threatening. My mother needed emergency surgery. We were shocked and worried as any family would be. After her surgery, we were told my mother would need to be on bed rest for about two weeks minimum with little movement. She would need a lot of assistance to get around the house, use the restroom, and shower. We were concerned for my mother but also for my siblings.  My mother is the person my brother depended on the most. And my sister was only 10 at the time.  

My father and I realized it was up to us to help my mother, my brother, and sister. For my father, taking time off meant he didn’t get paid and it was already hard for my family to make ends meet – still is.  I was also working hard, but not getting full time pay or health benefits of any sort. I was working just under 40 hours a week and therefore, part time. Calling off also meant no pay for me. It was really hard for my father and myself to work out a schedule where we could both help my brother with his needs and care for my little sister and my mother. It was also hard because my brother has a difficult time trusting other people, so he needed us. Sometimes, there is just no substitute for family.

Now imagine what it was like for us to shift to relying on one income – we had to save every penny for rent and bills, that’s it. I didn’t know how I was going to make my car payments. We were barely getting by.

Paid leave from our jobs would have helped my family at a time when we needed it most. If I would have had access to paid leave, I would have been able to help my family without losing my pay. My father wouldn’t have had to call out of work with no pay and risk losing his job. I also wouldn’t have had to go some days without pay. I was also scared that my job was going to fire me because I had to call out. With paid leave, we would have been able to provide my brother and sister with better care, while my mom recovered from surgery.

There are many families like mine. When the unexpected happens, family members need to be able to be there for each other – and still keep their jobs.  The U.S. needs a paid leave system so that families like yours and mine can care for loved ones when they need our help.

map of the united states, filled in by various shades of blue figures

#becounted

Are you ready to be counted? The 2020 Census is coming up and it is critical for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families. The census seeks to include every individual living in the United States, but many people with disabilities are historically left out of the countharmfully impacting funding, services, and supports.

Census data helps guide the distribution of more than $800 billion in federal funding. The count, conducted every 10 years, is also directly tied to key funding streams that support people with disabilities to live in the community, instead of institutions. It determines political representation and affects public policy, as well as programs and supports in housing, voting, education, health care, and public health. The Census Bureau recognizes people with disabilities as a hard-to-count population, meaning that they may not be fully represented in the count, and that the programs that are important to them may not receive the consideration they deserve.

The Arc is excited to announce a major initiative to find solutions. We are pleased to share that we have received a grant from the Ford Foundation to launch a project to help ensure that people with disabilities are counted in the 2020 Census. We recognize the Ford Foundation’s generosity and engagement in the fight for disability rights.

In planning for Census 2020, The Arc will develop and share materials to motivate and inform people with I/DD to respond to the count in order to produce more complete and fair data. Our outreach will include our chapter network and membership, and partnerships with national disability groups and advocacy organizations. 

The Arc has also joined the Census Bureau’s National Partnership Program to help raise awareness, share resources, and work together to ensure that all people are counted in 2020.

#becounted

All of our materials will be posted at thearc.org/census – please check back soon!

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New Videos from The Arc Spotlight Need to Close Institutions, Support Community Living

In 2019, 37 states still have institutions where people with intellectual and developmental (I/DD) live away from their families and communities. Some may recall the horrible investigative reports over the last few decades that showed the terrible conditions in institutions, but many people fail to realize the facilities still exist and that state and federal dollars are still funding them. The Arc of the United States was founded by families trying to eliminate the need for those institutions and to get their family members with disabilities back home and included in their communities. While we have come a long way, there remains much to be done from state capitals to our nation’s capital.

The Arc developed this video to highlight the issue and to educate the general public about institutions, and to urge action to close the remaining institutions and support people with disabilities, no matter their level of need, back into the community.

At The Arc we also understand that it is more important than ever that we educate the general public about why inclusion and acceptance matters and that they join the fight to ensure that the progress that we have made as a disability community is not stalled.

We have to talk about the fact that institutions remain open, and how those dollars would be better spent in the community. We have to educate the general public about how Medicaid makes life in the community possible. We have to protect Medicaid from threats of cuts and caps that would drastically hurt people with I/DD.

To illustrate community living, check out our new video.

On the policy front, we have to talk to state and federal legislators about the fact that the federal Medicaid law that we fought so hard to save just a few years ago needs a face lift. Right now, services in institutions, nursing homes and other more segregated settings are mandatory while home and community-based services (HCBS) are optional under the law.

These are complex issues, but the basic fact remains everybody benefits when people with disabilities are part of the fabric of their communities. That doesn’t come by keeping people locked away in institutions – it comes through conversation, inclusion and acceptance that we are all better together.