Caregiving: Is It Worth Less? - February 2003

Denver Women's Commission
Caregiving: Is It Worth Less? - February 2003

February 10, 2003
Prepared by Chaer Robert
For Colorado Woman News

Caregiving: Is it Worth Less?

"If not me, then who?" That is the fundamental caregivers' question according to Theresa Funiciello, Executive Director of the Caregiver Credit Campaign. Sometimes someone else can take the responsibility. Sometimes not.
This work does not always fit neatly around someone's paid job. Then it can become a question of balance, or a question of economic survival. Theresa tells the story of a mother who lost her job when her son's terminal illness required too much time away. She fell onto welfare, but then found the work requirements would prevent her from being at her son's side as he was dying. She was sanctioned for noncompliance and lost her assistance.

Everyday, in thousands of ways, women try to balance work and family roles. Everyday, women take on caregiving responsibilities that compromise their economic future. If we consider caring for others a basic need of society, why are there so few public supports for it? Those caring for the ill, the frail and the disabled lose an average of $550,000 in lifetime wages and their Social Security benefits decrease an average of $2100 annually.

On this ten anniversary of the passage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, Funiciello's keynote at the Fourteenth Annual Legislative Breakfast on Women Issues, held February 3, 2003, focused on the work undone. Former U.S. Representative Pat Schroeder described a group of Europeans visiting while she was proposing her family leave legislation. They came to hear what advances this great nation was considering. They were stunned to find she was proposing 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave. They had had paid parental leave for years. In 1989, Rep. Schroeder wrote: “ Family issues don’t confer power on their advocates. Family issues aren’t as prestigious as defense and foreign policy…Washington, D.C. sees itself as the capitol of the world’s most powerful nation. A person who talks about family issues is perceived as dealing with the mundane, not with power. “

Her Family and Medical Leave Act has helped more than 20 million men and women devote time to caregiving without losing their job. Yet only about one-half of American workers are covered by the provisions of the FMLA. And nearly 4 in 5 who need leave, but don’t take it, do not take it because they cannot afford to. Almost three in four low-income employees who take FMLA receive no pay. In contrast, between one in three and one in four middle and upper-income employees receive no pay while on FMLA. About 12% of the women who take leave ended up on public assistance. In Colorado, a woman with two children on welfare receives only $356. per month. And she is subject to a five-year lifetime limit and work requirements.

What are the next steps in supporting caregivers? Some possibilities are:

1. Extend the FMLA to include employers of 25 or more, rather than the current 50.
2. Extend the FMLA to more part-time workers.
3. Shorten the required FMLA job tenure from the current one year.
4. Ensure the right to some paid sick leave and vacation time among minimum labor standards. Require that available employee sick leave include use for sick children.
5. Exempt from the 5 year lifetime limit and allow reduced work hours for those on welfare who are caring for severely disabled children and those who are caring for adult relatives who would otherwise require nursing home care.
6. Expand use of spouse and family providers of home and community based services under Medicaid.
7. Allow parental leave as a valid use of unemployment insurance.
8. Expand the Federal Child Tax Credit to those earning under $10,000.
9. Increase the Federal Child Tax Credit to more accurately reflect the cost of raising a child. It is currently $600. per year.
10. Convert the Federal Child Tax Credit to a caregiver tax credit to include those raising children as well as those taking responsibility for a disabled, ailing or dying friend, parent, relative, partner or spouse.

Unlike advances through the workplace (recommendation 1-7 above), refundable tax credits can be available for full time caregivers as well as those in the paid workforce. This could transcend the current false welfare/worker dichotomy. Caregiving may be priceless, but that does not mean it is worthless.

For additional information visit or . Or contact the Women’s Lobby of Colorado at or call 303-592-3988