Greg Svirnovskiy is an intern with the Children’s Defense Fund for the Summer 2020 semester.
Joan Lunden helped teach my parents English. They’d left the former Soviet Union in 1993, religious refugees reuniting with family in the United States, and spent the next seven months watching Americans talking on television. Evening talk shows were like language arts classes — my dad would watch David Letterman and Jay Leno because their voices were clear and crisp, and then Rush Limbaugh an hour later because “you had to know English to understand him.” In the mornings they’d tune into Good Morning America (GMA), hanging onto Lunden’s every word.
She helped lead ABC’s GMA program from 1980 to 1997, covering 5 Olympic Games, interviewing presidents and first ladies, and jumping off mountains in New Zealand.
And there she was — right in front of me at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing in January, this face and name I’d known for my entire life, talking about child care. Lunden talked about hosting her first GMA show just seven weeks after giving birth to her first child in 1980. She felt lucky to work for a parent company that allowed workers to bring their children to the jobsite and take maternity leave. For the vast majority of women in the workforce, those policies simply did not exist.
15 years ago, my parents struggled to meet the dizzying burden of child care costs. I’m a twin, and they spent a combined $30,000 yearly paying for me and my brother to attend daycare. However, that still wasn’t enough. We only went to daycare three times a week; our parents would find other ways to watch us every other day, bringing us to the office or working from home.
They lived life on the other side of the coin, too. My mom spent her first year in America working at a daycare center where she made $3.25 an hour, working forty hours a week with no benefits. Most of that went back to taking care of us. It’s hard to understand. The child care industry takes in so much money, yet providers suffer economically despite high demand for their services. That’s often due to the high regulatory costs that come with running a daycare—food, toys, and employees’ wages.
The current FMLA’s interpretation of family is traditional and basic. An employee’s children, spouse, and parents are covered by leave protections—that’s all. Those protections do not extend to aunts, uncles, or friends who may serve as a family for many people, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community. Expanding paid leave protections to cover those who are related through “blood or affinity” will broaden our government’s understanding of the family as a unit.
The federal government should address the inefficiencies pushed onto families. At that January House Ways and Means hearing, researchers emphasized that current definitions of the family are “far too narrow;” many workers whose loved ones need help “fall through the cracks.”
It’s our job to mend those cracks: to help families afford paid leave, to help their children thrive.