Last year Mary Lou Eckart took her first vacation in five years, a trip from her home in Decatur, Ill., to see her grandchildren in Florida. But the Illinois state government, which pays her to care for a severely disabled teenage girl, provides her no paid vacation time. So Eckart took the girl -- and her work -- with her.
She faces a similar bind if she gets sick. "I just had an incident two weeks ago," she says. "I had an inner ear infection that I didn't know about, and I passed out. My 17-year-old daughter covered for me while I recovered. I get no paid vacation, no time off, no sick leave. But if they put these clients in a nursing home, I know that is very expensive. I'd love to have a vacation. I'd love to be able to get away. I'd love to have someone fill in for me. I feel like we deserve more than what we're getting."
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