TAMPA, Fla. — Working families across the Tampa Bay area continue to find huge challenges as classrooms and daycares are either forced into quarantine or closed altogether.
Just hours before Tisha Solomon was due to begin her first day at a new job, she received the notice from her daughter's VPK provider that every parent dreads.
"When I opened it, I saw COVID-19 and almost just slumped into the floor," Solomon said.
Her daughter was exposed to the virus, according to her provider. She soon got two other notices of new cases at the school.
"It's like we're taking two steps forward, but then we're taking 45 steps back because they're getting sent right back home to quarantine," Solomon said.
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For working parents, constant quarantines and isolations are about more than just health concerns for their kids and other family members.
"We knew we were facing a repeat of the 2020 school year hellscape," said Mara Bolis, who serves as Associate Director of Women's Economic Rights, Gender Justice & Inclusion Hub for Oxfam America.
She said working parents, often mothers, are bearing the burden of childcare during shutdowns as well as working full-time.
"For the working moms out there who have no access to paid family and medical leave this is a cause for panic," Bolis said. "That's particularly true for Black and Latinx workers who are more likely to work in low-wage work. Low-wage jobs are more likely to have to be in-person and can't work remotely. They most often don't have the essential benefits that they need in order to keep their families themselves safe while they earn a living."
Bolis also said there are a few things employers can do now to make things easier for families.
"Making it clear to workers where they have access to paid family and medical leave, and that it's not just to care for themselves, but also to care for their families and their children when the schools shut down," she said.
As an employee, Bolis said the first step is to know your rights and what benefits you have access to in terms of workplace flexibility, sick leave, and paid leave. She also said a good bet is to approach your company's human resources department or your manager to begin that conversation.
"I think it is the time to be demanding more from our employers," Bolis said.
While it isn't the easiest to have her daughter home, Solomon remains grateful she has that option. She knows other parents remain stuck and is now asking elected leaders to do more to help.
"There has to be a way to help people, help children get back into school and get their education and not fall behind. And also allow the parents to go to work to provide," she said.
This comes as President Joe Biden's American Families Plan would spend $225 billion to improve childcare. It would reduce the cost of care for low-income families and guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers.
The measure is still making its way through Congress.
Bolis said the main issue now is that people are not reaching out to their elected officials to support the measure and she would encourage working parents to do so.