As a movement crosses the country promoting paid family leave expansion, a national poll found that caregivers could be a major voting bloc in the next election, and a U.S. senator from Ohio is urging the state to help fund this growing population.
Ohio Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is calling on Gov. Mike DeWine to fund kinship caregivers, as a federal court ordered the state to do in 2018. Kinship caregivers are family members or close friends of children who step in when parents are unable to care for their children.
According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, kinship caregivers are currently able to get “child-only” monthly benefits of about $300 per month for the first child. The amounts are reduced for each additional child in the household. Foster parents receive a daily rate for each foster child, but those rates vary by county and agency, according to ODJFS.
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court’s 2018 decision said that approved kinship caregivers should get the same payments as licensed foster parents. The state has been criticized for delaying their compliance with the ruling.
Brown sent a letter to DeWine last week calling kinship caregivers “a vital resource in the fight to keep families together, reduce the trauma of family separation, and protect children’s well-being.”
Meanwhile, a study done by Hart Research for the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and caregiver advocacy group Caring Across Generations found that “caregiving Americans” represent two-thirds of the country, but the population still isn’t enough for the amount of care that will be needed in the future.
The study conducted late last year surveyed 1,510 adults and interviewed African-American and Hispanic men and women. Those surveyed estimated they spend 35.9 hours a week providing care, while 55% are otherwise employed full-time.
When asked about political candidates, 85% of those polled said they would be more likely to support a candidate running for elected office who “prioritizes quality of care for older Americans and support for caregivers,” according to the study.
Asked about child care, 68% said they would support a candidate who prioritizes quality child care, and 2 in 3 of those surveyed would support a candidate prioritizing universal paid family leave.
In Brown’s letter, the senator advised the governor to enroll in the Guardianship Assistance Payment program through the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Through the program, Brown said the state can gain federal funding for kinship caregivers.
He also mentioned the financial challenges caregivers take on when children come under their care for one reason or another, particularly grandparents.
“Grandparents are deferring retirement, draining their savings, and continue working, with some taking on second or third jobs, in order to provide for their grandchildren,” Brown wrote. “Federal, state, and local policies fail to recognize these challenges, which may prevent grandparents from accessing the housing, health, education, and legal services they need.”
The press secretary for DeWine’s office confirmed they’d received Brown’s letter. He told the Capital Journal that ODJFS “has been working with the administration on developing a plan to address this issue,” but did not elaborate.
Some Ohio legislators have been pushing for a new way of helping caregivers in Ohio, with a renewed effort at a statewide paid leave program. The most recent bill, which would allow residents to be paid for time taken as part of the federal Family Medical Leave Act. The federal program allows leave, but does not compensate for the time.
The bill has been awaiting review by the legislature for nearly a year.