Phase four relief should include all caregivers

Phase four relief should include all caregivers
© Getty Images

Rosalynn Carter, wife and closest adviser to former President Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterBiden up 4 points in North Carolina, 1 point in Georgia: poll Ex-presidents honor Lewis's contributions to nation at funeral Jimmy Carter honors John Lewis: His contributions 'will continue to be an inspiration for generations to come' MORE, once said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.” 

Likewise, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, wife of former President Ronald Reagan, cared for her husband almost religiously after he was struck with Alzheimer’s, until his death in 2004. 

These remarkable women got it. They understood the critical importance of caregiving in families’ lives. I can say from experience, as a working mother of four children under the age of 10, that caregiving while working is not easy, to say the least! I could go on and on about all the challenges, but I think most of us know them too well already. We also know they are worth it. 

ADVERTISEMENT

In moments of great national challenge like we face today, we should look for silver linings and for opportunities. Having a newfound appreciation for child and family caregiving should be one of them — perhaps the most important one of all.  

As businesses begin to reopen and people are called back to work, family caregiving responsibilities will be on full display and leave workers with tough choices: go to work or care for their vulnerable children and loved ones. 

Many schools across the country are closed at least until the fall, summer camps are announcing cancellations and child care centers are closed or significantly limiting the number of children per room. Additionally, elder and adult care facilities are either on lockdown or closed for the foreseeable future. This severely limits the ability for some parents and caregivers to return to work without jeopardizing the health of their dependents. 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), passed by Congress and signed into law by President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE, included new policies to address these challenges. In addition to two weeks of emergency paid sick leave, the law offers 12 weeks of mostly paid family caregiving leave for workers with children out of school. The FFCRA also provides federal dollars to cover the cost incurred by employers with a dollar for dollar refundable tax credit.  

There is, however, a catch. The new benefit does not extend to most workers. Companies with more than 500 employees — 48 percent of American workers — are excluded from these provisions and those who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees — 27 percent of workers — are eligible but the employer may self-exempt if the leave requirement would present a financial burden to their business. Likewise, many health care workers do not get this benefit. 

ADVERTISEMENT

As officials get serious about reopening the economy, they need to get serious about supporting Americans' need for balance in these unprecedented times. In other words, we need to reform the packages passed by Congress to cover more workers who have caregiving responsibilities, may they be young children out of school or dependent adults with no safe care options. 

At the Bipartisan Policy Center, we understand that passing federal legislation is not easy, but this one should not be too hard. In the next coronavirus relief or recovery package, Congress should eliminate the exemption for businesses with more than 500 employees and offset at least some of the cost with tax credits to companies of all sizes. 

Working families across America need to stay connected to their employer during this time of caregiving. It is better for the employer and employee. Paid family leave has proven to reduce attrition, increase productivity and promote female labor force participation. Moreover, paid family leave has proven to protect a family’s healthcare and retirement savings, improve infant and child outcomes and reduce a mother’s reliance on welfare programs.  

Strengthening families will strengthen America – especially right now. We know it’s the right thing to do, so Congress, let’s do it. 

Adrienne Schweer is a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and she leads the organization’s Paid Family Leave Project. You can follow her on Twitter @adriennesully.