New Year’s Resolution: Let’s Give Families a Hand

If you have children living at home, odds are that you are tired and worried about money. If you are a poor or low-income parent, those worries are exponentially worse. There are ways that, together, we can make life easier for parents, especially those with the least resources. We all have a voice in our democracy so my holiday wish is that each of us adds at least one of these resolutions this year.

1. Advocate for paid family leave. The U.S. is the only industrialized country that does not provide this benefit. In most states, workers cannot get paid leave to care for a new baby or a sick family member. This harms babies who have less time to bond with their parents, and it contributes to the United States’ low rate of breastfeeding. Unpaid leave is not a solution for most families: 78 percent of employees who need family leave do not take it because they cannot afford to go without pay – and 15 percent who do take unpaid leave are forced onto public assistance.

Paid leave doesn’t break the bank. In California, where the law provides for paid family leave, the vast majority of employers said that it either had a positive effect or no effect at all on their businesses. Only California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have instituted paid family leave. If you live in one of the other states, find your state campaign for paid family leave and see what you can do to help.

2. Fund CHIP. As I’ve written before, 9 million children from middle- and low-income families rely upon the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Traditionally, there has been bipartisan support in Congress for this program that has been proven to keep kids healthy. Congress let the program expire in September. This means that the new year will see many children lose coverage.

We should all be calling our members of Congress and letting them know that taking health care away from children is unacceptable.

3. Provide diapers. This is the cause closest to my heart, because I know what a difference it makes for families. One in three American families struggles to afford diapers. Stretching diapers by going too long between changes causes diaper rash and even serious infection. Because child care providers insist that parents supply disposables for their children’s use, parents lose childcare and the ability to work. A recent study showed that in families with diaper need, adults miss an average of four days of work or school a month.

There is probably a diaper bank near you. Make a donation, run a diaper drive or a fundraiser. Do your part to keep kids clean, dry and healthy in your community.

4. Make sure kids in school have their basic needs met: Work with your school’s nurse. Just as food stamps and WIC cannot cover diapers, there is also no public assistance for things like toothpaste, tampons, shampoo and so on. Your local diaper bank may provide these items to families, so you can help there. Or it might fall to your school nurse. I have never met a school nurse who does not have a drawer somewhere filled with hygiene products for students who cannot afford them. Invariably, he or she is paying for these things out of pocket. There are two ways to go with this. You can talk to the administration about the need to provide hygiene products for students – as they are as important to good health as food. Or you can work with other parents to fundraise to make sure that every student has the products they need.

All of this is to say that your voice matters. It is incumbent upon us all to make our voices heard and to tell our friends, colleagues, family members and elected officials what matters to us.

Make 2018 a banner year for children by adding your voice to all of those calling for paid family leave, funding CHIP, providing diapers and making sure all kids have their basic needs met.

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