CALL 6: Hoosiers struggle without paid family leave

Posted at 1:13 PM, May 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-01 19:46:36-04

All this week on RTV6 at 6 p.m., Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney is looking at the true Cost of Living in Indiana and how you can get ahead.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Many Hoosiers will at some point welcome a new baby, or suffer an illness or injury that puts them off the job for a bit.

Call 6 Investigates found only 14 percent of workers are covered under a paid family leave policy, leaving thousands of Hoosier families scrambling.

In our Cost of Living series, Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney is looking at numerous issues impacting Hoosiers’ lives, including how the lack of paid family leave is having a major strain on workers.

Kate and Adam Barrow of Indianapolis are raising a baby boy and a 3-year old daughter.

For her maternity leave, she used accrued sick time and short term disability to recover from her C-section.

Adam was recently diagnosed with a degenerative spinal cord condition that will eventually put him in a wheelchair.

“That was kind of a big hit for us,” Adam, a former chef, said. “I had originally thought if I’m 70 and I’m in a wheelchair, I’m doing ok. And they’re saying you’re looking at more like 10-15 years, tops.”

To take care of her husband, Kate’s likely only option would be to take unpaid leave, which would leave her family with no income.

“If my husband becomes ill and his back worsens, then I will likely have to take more time,” Kate said.

But there’s more.

Kate has living with postpartum depression on and off since the birth of her 3-year old daughter.

“I was having auditory hallucinations,” Kate said. “I would think I would hear a baby cry and nobody was crying, everybody was fine. The doctor asked me if i need to go to the stress center, and I thought you know I probably do, but again, I still didn't qualify for short term disability, I didn't qualify for family medical leave, and I had already taken accrued time I had."

But Kate did not go to a treatment center because she does not have paid family leave.

The tough decisions have led to some downright scary times for the Barrows.

"I didn't know some days quite honestly if I could leave her alone," Adam said.

The Indiana Institute for Working Families says many families are in the same boat as the Barrows.

“We have one in four moms going back within weeks of giving birth, which is before their bodies are physically ready,” said Erin Macey, a policy analyst for the Indiana Institute for Working Families. “I think family leave often gets painted as maternity leave, that it’s just for new parents. Really this is something everyone could use because all of us going to need to take care of someone in our family.”

Currently, state employees can accrue paid sick time, and the state short-term disability benefits are paid at 60 percent of an employee’s salary.

Indiana state workers can get long-term disability, but it is paid at 40 to 50 percent of the employee’s base salary, according to a study from the Indiana Institute for Working Families.

MORE | Read the Indiana recommendations from the Indiana Institute for Working Families

There are no statewide provisions for the private sector when it comes to paid family or medical leave, and the institute argues the federal Family Medical Leave Act is not enough.

Under FMLA, Hoosiers have job protection if they take time off to care for their babies or a sick loved one.

States like California, New Jersey and Rhode Island already offer paid family leave and it’s coming soon in New York, Washington and the District of Columbia.

The Indiana Institute for Working Families is pushing for Indiana to follow suit.

Typically, workers pay for family leave just like insurance.

“It’s taken out of their check,” said Macey. “And then, everyone’s funding it and you can draw from it when you need the wage replacement.”

With no state requirement in place in Indiana, some employers, like Indiana University, are already taking steps to provide paid parental leave for their workers.

Kate is getting help for her post-partum depression, and hiking helps pull her out. But with Adam’s spinal cord condition and no paid family leave, the future is very uncertain.

“It makes me very angry that moms have to go through this, that parents have to go through this,” Kate said.

The Barrows hope to raise awareness about how paid family leave could make a big difference for families as well as help companies retain good workers.

“It would make better employees, because you’re well rested and recuperated, when your family is stronger you're a better employee," Kate said.

The Indiana Commission for Women has secured more than $200,000 to study how paid family leave could work in Indiana.

This session, the legislature and the governor signed off the study, and the findings are expected to be released in November.

All this week on RTV6 at 6 p.m., Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney is looking at the true Cost of Living in Indiana and how you can get ahead.