Reflections on the Anniversary of the FMLA

February 2, 2014

By Cindia Cameron
CoChair, Georgia JobFamily Collaborative
Organizing Director, 9to5 

At a recent Georgia House Committee hearing on the Family Care Act (HB 290), I was reminded both of how far we have come since the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, and how far we still have to go to fulfill the promise of this important legislation.  HB 290 would give workers the right to use earned sick days to care for family members. FMLA provides only unpaid leave and only for ‘serious illness’ of a family member.  It does not cover routine medical appointments – a critical need for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

“If families are forced to take unpaid days when a family member needs medical attention, they risk losing wages or even putting their livelihood at risk if they lose their job,” explained Dawn Alford, (pictured here). “Losing wages can be a burden for any family, but this is especially true of families with an individual who has a disability. There are often many out-of-pocket costs as a result of the disability that are not covered by insurance.  Furthermore, no one can care for a family member with a disability better than their own family.”

Dawn serves as Public Policy Development Specialist for the GA Council on Developmental Disabilities.  That group has been a leader in the Family Care Act campaign.  It was their members and staff who first met with Rep Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) to explain the needs of their constituents and ask that she introduce legislation.

A sign of how far we have come as a nation and a movement is that the Family Care Act is moving forward in a state like Georgia.  In our state, the only path to public policy reform lies in drafting legislation that can be championed by the majority party.  That requires building a coalition of organizations that have strong relationships with Republican legislators and statewide membership.  The Georgia Job Family Collaborative has done both.  Five of the six initial co-sponsors of HB 290 are from the majority party.  Our lead sponsor is in Republican leadership.  Because this issue has such wide appeal, our Collaborative includes groups like the Georgia Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Georgia PTA, the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, Easter Seals of South Georgia and Interfaith Children’s Movement, as well as the Georgia AFL-CIO.

We are being successful because we’ve built a network of organizations that have constituents in nearly every one of Georgia’s 159 counties, but primarily because our message is carried by articulate and determined advocates like Dawn, and the personal stories they bring to legislative hearings. As she told legislators:

“I am able to be here today to testify in support of the Family Care Act only because my mother was able to take a day off work to accompany me.  My usual caregiver is ill, and despite many calls to line up a substitute caregiver for this morning, I was not able to find a last minute replacement.  I am fortunate that my mother’s employer allows her this flexibility – both to provide care if I need to go to the doctor, and to allow me to share this experience with you.”

During the 2014 legislative session, the GA Job Family Collaborative’s goal is to raise awareness among enough Republican Representatives to allow the Family Care Act to get a vote in the full House. With the help of activists like Dawn, we believe we will get there.

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