Once the 2020 academic year began and the school where she worked as an art teacher was asking staff to come in four days a week, Galloway resident Susan Coll-Guedes had no choice but to resign from her position in November so she could stay home with her kids who were getting their schooling remotely.

"I want to work. It hurts me having to make that choice," Coll-Guedes said.

While still employed with the school, the mother of three had no idea she was eligible for federal benefits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act — specifically two weeks of sick leave at two-thirds pay for her exact situation.

"I'm currently looking for work but it can't replace the positive I gave up," Coll-Guedes said. "I hope our lawmakers can make changes for working parents because it's just not sustainable. We're weathering a storm but we just don't know for how long."

Coll-Guedes made her comments during a virtual press conference held by New Jersey Policy Perspective that highlighted the impending expiration of key provisions of the FFCRA for working parents. Unless Congress acts to extend the Act, Dec. 31 ends the benefit of paid time off to care for a quarantined individual or a child whose school or childcare provider is closed due to COVID-19.

A report released Tuesday by the progressive think tank finds the public health crisis has worsened barriers to economic security and childcare among families with children. The report analyzed weekly data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau and noted that households with children are more likely to struggle with usual expenses and more likely to report some type of income loss since the onset of the pandemic.

"During a public health emergency that has drastically disrupted schools, childcare, and work, it is essential that parents have the support, flexibility, and resources they need to balance their jobs and caregiving duties," report author Vineeta Kapahi said. "Understanding and addressing the needs of working parents is not only critical to the well-being of children and their families, but also the broader economy as well as the state's recovery from the pandemic."

The report from NJPP coincides with the release of policy recommendations from the NJ Time to Care Coalition. Advocates say New Jersey lawmakers can work on their own to increase protections during this and future health emergencies, and in general, whether or not federal benefits are extended.

Among their recommendations, the coalition is urging passage of a proposed New Jersey law that would significantly expand earned sick leave benefits. The coalition also voiced its support for legislation that would require employers to allow parents or guardians to work from home during a health emergency unless doing so creates undue hardship on the business.

"What we're talking about is not necessarily trying to penalize employers. But there are employers that do not have their eye on the best interests of their workers," said Yarrow Willman-Cole, convener of the coalition.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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