Bipartisanship for family care
By Cindia Cameron and Julie Haley
How can you tell it’s campaign season in Georgia? The mudslinging and partisan rhetoric are in full swing. Incumbent Republican Gov. Nathan Deal trumpets his record of moving Georgia to the No. 1-ranked “business friendly” state, according to a 2013 Site Selection magazine poll, while his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Jason Carter, promotes “an economy that works for the middle class.”
Voters are encouraged to see this race as a boxing match: contestants ready to come out swinging on every issue. However, the contenders’ positions have more in common than we might assume.
The recent White House Summit on Working Families reinforced policies that could benefit Americans across party lines. Rep. Terry Rogers, R-Clarksville, in describing his support for Georgia’s Family Care Act (House Bill 290), inspired this approach. At a 2013 Georgia House committee hearing, he described this bill as a way to improve our business climate and attract new employers to the state.
When politicians invoke “business friendly,” it can be code for tax credits or “free market” regulation. HB 290 simply allows workers to use sick days they have earned to take an elderly parent for a hearing aid check, or to keep a sick child home from school without fear of disciplinary action or loss of pay.
We agree with Rogers. Legislation that allows employees to care for family members would boost our economy and support local businesses.
In Georgia, an estimated 878,000 people do not have access to family care days, forcing them to choose between family care and keeping food on the table, based on data from the Georgia Department of Labor. Nationwide, 23 percent of workers have lost a job or have been threatened with job loss for taking time off for a personal or family illness.
Even if a worker is able to keep a job after taking time off, the loss of a day’s wage can equal a week’s worth of groceries. The Family Care Act will help reduce unemployment and reliance on social support systems.
According to a 2012 survey from the National Partnership for Women & Families, 86 percent of voters — 96 percent of Democrats, 87 percent of independents and 73 percent of Republicans — believe it is important for Congress and the president to consider new laws to keep working families economically secure, including creating a system of family and medical leave insurance and ensuring workers are able to earn paid sick days.
A 2013 poll of likely voters in seven Georgia counties found more than two out of three voters rated the Family Care Act “important or extremely important.”
In debates over the HB 290, opponents often cite the need to protect small business. We see this issue differently, and have come together as advocate and business owner to state that case.
One of us works with low-income women to help them understand their workplace rights and how to improve them. The other runs a small business in Alpharetta. Edge Solutions LLC, No. 3 in the INC.com list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in 2013, has the following mission statement: “Recruiting and retaining quality employees is crucial to the success of my tech business, so I make sure that my employees have the flexibility that they need to care for their family. This culture of ‘families first’ produces happier, more productive employees, and is the cornerstone of our success.”
The Family Care Act, introduced by Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, was voted out of a House committee this year but did not reach the House floor. It is supported by a broad coalition of statewide organizations, including the Georgia Federation of Women’s Clubs, Coalition of Advocates for Georgia’s Elderly, Easter Seals of Southwest Georgia, Interfaith Children’s Movement and Georgia PTA.
Speaking up for policies like the Family Care Act is a winning strategy for all candidates; it strengthens the business climate, family economic security and voter engagement. If it helps decrease partisan mudslinging, that’s icing on the cake.
Cindia Cameron is 9to5 organizing director and co-chair of the Georgia Job/Family Collaborative (www.gajobfamily.org). Julie Haley is CEO of Edge Solutions LLC and past legislative chair of the Georgia PTA.