Keep women in the labor market. Adopt the law on family care
Most of us are faced with the need to take care of a family member at some point in our working years. Whether it is for a newborn baby or a critically ill family member, caregiving is an integral part of our lives. Within families, it is usually the woman who provides this care, which leads her to reduce her working hours or to leave the labor market altogether. When women work less, they earn less. Lower income often results in financial stress in the current and diminished retirement income. For these reasons, the Pennsylvania legislature must pass the Family Care Act.
Most Pennsylvanians do not have access to family and medical leave insurance paid for through their employers. The law on family protection (HB 1200 and SB 580) would remedy this situation by creating a state-wide fund administered by the Department of Labor and Industry and give workers the flexibility to invest small payroll deductions – only about 50 cents for each $ 100 – so they can enjoy the benefits in times of family health emergencies instead of losing their jobs.
This bipartisan bill has 37 co-sponsors in the House and 15 in the Senate. Republican leaders who control the agenda must ensure that the family care law is put to a vote. Yes, a bill for paid family leave is currently before Congress, but Pennsylvania needs its own bill. Federal and state laws work in tandem to protect workers. The policy provisions of federal law may not cover the specific needs of Pennsylvanians. For example, Pennsylvania must establish its own wage replacement rate, definition of family, and number of weeks of leave. In addition, a federal law can take years to pass through extensive political negotiations. Caregivers in Pennsylvania need help now. The delivery problems are acute, as demonstrated by the pandemic.
Several states already offer paid family leave programs to workers who do not have access to paid leave provided by the employer. These programs provide workers with the opportunity to care for their families in the way that is most convenient for them. For example, new parents can take turns participating in the program, which delays the cost of infant care – the most expensive and staffing level of child care. Participation in the program allows new mothers to physically recover from birth and establish breastfeeding if they wish. The non-delivering parent can participate in the early bonding experience and help with the day-to-day demands of caring for a newborn baby. This arrangement has the added benefit of alleviating staff shortages in child care centers.
Paid family leave programs also help parents of children with serious or chronic illnesses. These parents can use their leave intermittently to attend their child’s most important appointments or procedures, relieving some of the parent’s stress and providing tremendous emotional relief for a child during an anxiety-provoking time.
Likewise, workers caring for older relatives can use paid family leave to be present in the last weeks or months of their lives. It can give caregivers the much-needed flexibility to plan, cope with grief, and focus on the needs of the family.
If our state legislature now passed the Family Care Act, employers would be able to prepare for employee leave in advance. This preparedness would provide a level of protection for future state-level disturbances such as a natural disaster or other pandemic.
Yes, the federal FMLA protects a worker’s job if they take unpaid leave, but many employees can’t afford to miss a paycheck. These workers find themselves in the terrible position of having to choose between providing for the basic needs of life and caring for those they love.
Let us ease the financial burden on families and keep women in the workforce. Tell your representative to support The Family Care Act as it is suitable for families, businesses, and Pennsylvania.
Becky Logue-Conroy is an individual partner of the Women’s Advocacy Coalition, where she co-chairs the Caregiving Committee. Learn more about the Family Care Act on the Women’s Advocacy Coalition website, https://bcwac.org/?s=family+Care+Act