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Granite State Rumblings: Making Your Work Schedule Work For Your Family

Image by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (FLIKR)

Image by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (FLIKR)

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a roundtable discussion about the issues affecting low income women in the workforce. It was facilitated by the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor. A theme that ran through each of the discussions was the affect that job schedule instability has on the lives of low income women and their children. With that in mind, I came across an e-mail on the topic from our friends at CLASP that I’d like to share with you.

Job Schedule Instability in the
Lives of Poor Children and their Families
By Rhiannon Reeves

For low-income parents with volatile job schedules, obtaining safe, reliable child care is extremely challenging. This was illustrated in a recent New York Times article about a young single mother whose personal, professional, and family lives were severely disrupted by her employer’s scheduling practices. With her schedule constantly changing—often at the last minute—she was forced to patch together care for her son that combined time in a subsidized preschool program with support from various relatives.

Unpredictable work schedules and the resulting scramble for stable child care have dire consequences for young children’s healthy development. As the body of evidence builds, more and more people are calling for changes to workplace policies, child care subsidy policy and practice, and further research to help stabilize the lives of poor children and their families.

In November 2013, the Urban Institute, with support from the Foundation for Child Development, convened practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to explore the impacts of instability on children, as well as implications for policy and practice. Last month, the Urban Institute published a report based on the November meeting along with a series of essays from some of the participants insights from a variety of disciplines on how federal and state policies can address the developmental risks that instability—in housing, health care, education, daily routines, and caregiving—poses for children. Last month, the Urban Institute published a report based on the November meeting along with a series of essays from some of the participants.

An essay from CLASP Executive Director Olivia Golden suggests several broad policy approaches, including:

  • Improving continuity of services in public programs, such as child care subsidies, to support children and families experiencing instability.
  • Interrupting cycles that disrupt continuity of services.  For example, the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act gives children without housing the right to remain in the same school they attended before becoming homeless—even if they’re residing in another district.
  • Protecting stable relationships in a child’s life to mitigate the impact of other instability challenges.
  • Tackling challenges in the low-wage labor market, such as lack of access to paid leave that contribute to cycles of instability.

The continued growth of low-wage employment demonstrates a clear need for policy and practice reforms that support stability for children and families. Policies that strengthen workforce development, support continuity of income supports, and promote fair job schedules can help families achieve economic security while supporting children’s healthy development during critical early years.

Recently, the Schedules that Work Act was introduced in Congress by Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA).

This legislation would provide relief to workers facing irregular and unpredictable schedules by:

  • Protecting all employees from retaliation for requesting a more flexible, predictable or stable schedule.
  • Creating a process for employers to consider requests that is responsive to the needs of both employees and employers. Employees who make requests because they have caregiving duties, are dealing with a health condition, are pursuing education or training courses, or need to meet the demands of a second job must be granted the schedule change, unless the employer has a bona fide business reason for denying it.
  • Compensating retail, food service, and cleaning workers for at least four hours of work if an employee reports to work when scheduled for at least four hours but is sent home early.
  • Providing that retail, food service, and cleaning employees receive work schedules at least two weeks in advance. Though schedules may later be changed, one hour’s worth of extra pay is required for schedules changed with less than 24 hours’ notice.
  • Providing workers an extra hour of pay if scheduled to work split shifts, or non-consecutive shifts within a single day.

This legislation is particularly important for low-income working parents trying to access licensed child care. Child care providers, in particular center-based providers, are typically unable to accommodate last-minute scheduling changes or variable hours of care.

Child care providers have basic business costs they must cover, including rent, utilities, and personnel. Because these costs are fixed, they often cannot accommodate families who enroll children less than full time.  Licensed child care providers are also most likely to operate during regular weekday business hours; evening and weekend options are extremely limited for parents across the country.

Not only do these unstable schedules make parenting difficult, but studies show that children in low-income families have the most to gain from access to high-quality child care that prepares them for success in school and in life.

GROWING UP GRANITE

Here is a new report from our friends at the NH Fiscal Policy Institute:

The State of New Hampshire recently opened coverage for the New Hampshire Health Protection Program (NHHPP), the state’s public health insurance program for low-income adults. This flagship program will provide health insurance through New Hampshire Medicaid until 2016. The state is concurrently building the framework for the next component of the NHHPP, the Premium Assistance Program, in which coverage will be provided through commercial insurance carriers in the federal Marketplace starting in 2016. While New Hampshire must structure this private market coverage within the parameters of the federal Medicaid program, the state has the opportunity to design a unique program that addresses Granite State goals.

Whether to require financial contributions, such as premium payments or cost sharing, from enrollees is a question that requires careful analysis. A substantial body of literature suggests that low-income people are very sensitive to even the most modest costs in relation to health insurance. Imposing such financial obligations on low-income enrollees may be counterproductive to the state’s overarching goals of achieving sustained health insurance coverage for New Hampshire residents and encouraging effective use of health care resources by those who are newly insured.

This paper examines the premiums and cost sharing currently allowed within Medicaid, trends in imposing out-of-pocket costs on low-income adults covered by Medicaid, and potential risks of imposing out-of-pocket costs on financially vulnerable adults.

You can read the full report here.

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About MaryLou Beaver

New Hampshire Campaign Director Every Child Matters Education Fund
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