John Burbank: Using paid sick days for family care

Testimony of John Burbank, Executive Director, EOI

For SSB 6426, Allowing sick leave to care for family members

This Committee and the House as a whole have already considered and supported the family care issue. The substantive difference between the bill this committee already approved and S.S.B. 6426 is that parents-in-law and grandparents are included in the Senate bill but not the House bill. I’ll focus my remarks narrowly today, first on sharing some polling results with you, and second on the importance of including parents-in-law and grandparents in the legislation.

In late January, the Economic Opportunity Institute included a question on the Family Care bill in a poll we commissioned of Washington state residents. An overwhelming 83% of state residents favored the bill with the inclusion of sick spouses, parents, parents-in-law, and grandparents. Strong majorities of every demographic and political group, and in every part of the state were in support.

This high level of support is not surprising. According to a 1997 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP which collected the most extensive data on family caregiving, 23% of US household are involved with giving informal care to friends or family over age 50. Of those caregivers, 70% are female, and 64% are employed. 31% are caring for their own mother, 9% are caring for their mother-in-law, and 12% for a grandmother. Typically the caregiver lives close by – 21% live in the same household and 43% live within a 20 minute commute. Three fourths of primary care givers have help, usually from other family members – 34% from a daughter, 25% from a son, 9% from a spouse, 6% from a daughter-in-law, and 5% from a son-in-law.

Most of this informal family care is incorporated into the daily routine, but when someone gets sick or injured, workers need the flexibility to use their leave time. Last year, I had to take several days off work in order to move my father-in-law from California to a nursing home in Seattle. Because my father-in-law had both physical disabilities and mental confusion, he had to be accompanied by someone who was big and strong. I was the only person in the family who was physically capable of the job. One of my co-workers is planning to take a week off in April when her grandmother is scheduled for hip replacement surgery. In this case, she is the only family member living in the same city, and so again is the logical choice for providing care.

With today’s smaller families, broken families, mobile population, and growing elderly population, it makes good public policy sense to include parents-in-law and grandparents in family care legislation. Stand-up comics may like to tell mother-in-law jokes, but we all know that in-laws and grandparents are family with whom we have ties not only of affection, but also of mutual obligation.

The legislature has a lot of tough choices to make this year, but this is not one of them. The Senate voted this version of the bill through with strong bi-partisan support, 38 to 10. I commend and thank this committee for the stand you have already taken on the family care bill, and urge you to accept SSB 6426.

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