Fighting for your right to care

Will California show the love to sick grandparents, siblings, in-laws and grandchildren?

Published October 5, 2007 7:20PM (EDT)

I am one of the half a million Californians who in just the past three years have benefited from the state's excellent new paid-family-leave law. When our daughter was a newborn, I received 55 percent of my salary for six weeks from the state to care for her, through funds raised by employee payroll deductions. For this, I would like to now formally offer the great state of California a big wet kiss. Thank you, Californians!

That same family leave law already lets workers who need to care for an ill parent, child, spouse or domestic partner do the same. But it doesn't go far enough. The law does not currently extend to workers who need to take time off to care for a seriously ill sibling, grandparent, mother-in-law, father-in-law or grandchild, according to a front-page story in the San Francisco Chronicle today.

Since the law was enacted three years ago, the state has denied 191 claims to care for a very sick sibling, 104 to care for a grandparent, 53 to care for a mother-in-law or father-in-law and 50 to care for a grandchild. And who knows how many other similar caregivers simply did not apply, because they knew that their situation was not covered under the law. Those caring for a grandparent, sibling, in-law or grandchild are also not eligible for the state's 12 weeks of guaranteed unpaid leave.

Now, two new bills may change that, extending those benefits to the caregivers described above who aren't currently eligible. SB 727 and AB 537 are currently on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk, awaiting his signature by Oct. 14. More information about both bills, and another bill in California that would protect caregivers from discrimination at work, is here.

This is such a no-brainer. As workers in California, these people are already paying into the paid-family-leave program through a payroll deduction. Why shouldn't they be able to use the benefit to help them afford to care for a grandparent or sibling? If you live and work in California, you owe it to yourself -- and everyone else -- to tell the governor that he should sign these bills, by clicking here.

It's a great way for new parents, like me, who have benefited from paid family leave to show support for all the diverse caregiving needs that other families have.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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