LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — After the death of her only child, Cathyleen Williams lost her only source of income and was forced to rely on food stamps and credit cards after being denied unemployment benefits.
Her son, Caleb, was born in 2006 with half a heart. His fragile condition meant that he needed help with everything.
“Meds, feeding, laundry, helping him go potty,” Williams said.
Williams gave up her job as a teacher to provide round-the-clock care for her son. Through a program called in-home support services, or IHSS, parents or spouses are paid by the state for work that would otherwise have to be done in an institution.
In 2016, 9-year-old Caleb died.
“His little body just couldn’t take it anymore,” Williams said.
While grieving the loss of her son, Williams was then informed that her IHSS income would also come to an end and she was not eligible for unemployment benefits due to a quirk in the law.
Williams, who carries her son’s ashes everywhere she goes in a stuffed Olaf doll, decided to turn her despair into action.
“I didn’t know much about legislation, but I learned real quick,” she said.
She lobbied lawmakers to write and pass AB 1993, which ends an IHSS provision that excludes caregivers from being able to utilize unemployment benefits when their spouse or child dies.
“You got to have that safety net to fall on,” she said.
Williams is fighting for families like Mirna Ruiz and her 24-year-old son, David, of Rialto.
Ruiz has been David’s full-time caregiver since he was born. David was diagnosed with a hole in his heart, cerebral palsy and autism and, at any moment, a seizure could take his life and his mother’s livelihood.
“I have no savings whatsoever,” she said. “We would probably become homeless.”
In California, 46% of all full-time family caregivers are Latinx.
“Because of our culture, we never leave our family behind,” Ruiz said.
She believes Williams is one of a kind.
“She could’ve easily given up and said, ‘That’s it. I don’t even have my son with me anymore, what do I care,'” Ruiz said. “But no. On the contrary, she wants to help other families.”
Williams is currently collecting signatures on an online petition calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign AB 1933 into law. He has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto the law.