Legislation would extend unemployment insurance to parent and spouse caregivers in California’s In-Home Supportive Services program.
By Doug Moore, Special to CalMatters
Doug Moore is executive director of UDW/AFSCME Local 3930, firstname.lastname@example.org.
In spite of decades of struggle to achieve equality at work and at home, women continue to perform more than their share of caregiving, both paid and unpaid – and when that woman is a spouse or mother of the person she’s caring for, it’s as if her labor doesn’t even exist.
A perfect example of this is the frontline-working women of California’s In-Home Supportive Services program. IHSS allows low-income seniors and people with disabilities to employ the caregiver of their choice in order to live independently in their homes, at a fraction of the cost of institutionalized care. About 22% of IHSS workers are parent or spouse providers, almost exclusively mothers and wives, providing long-term care to spouses or disabled children.
And though this work is grueling and the hours are long, parent and spouse providers are the only IHSS caregivers without access to unemployment insurance. The consequences of this exclusion are deplorable and devastating.
Take Christina Cruikshank of El Dorado County, an IHSS provider who cares for her teenage daughter Alanna. Alanna lives with frequent seizures, mental illness and cognitive disabilities that can cause her to act in dangerous and unpredictable ways. Christina had tried to hold down other jobs in the past, but was constantly getting emergency calls at work and losing paid caregivers when Alanna’s care needs proved too much for most to handle.
At first, finding In-Home Supportive Services was a godsend for their family because it allowed Christina to take on Alanna’s caregiving herself. No one gets rich on IHSS pay – Christina makes just $13.50 an hour – but it helps her make ends meet while providing Alanna with the best care possible.
But then the unthinkable happened, and a horrific accident put Alanna in a coma for 30 days. Unsure whether Alanna would live or die, Christina spent all her time either at her daughter’s bedside, consulting with doctors, or getting clothes and personal care items for her daughter – none of which counted toward her IHSS timesheet, as she was now technically unemployed.
Thankfully, Alanna recovered, but had it not been for a GoFundMe fundraiser, Alanna would have had no place to come home to.
Crueler still is what happens when a parent or spouse provider’s client dies: in one fell swoop they lose their loved one and their income, with no social safety net to care for them when they need it most.
This exclusion of parent and spouse IHSS providers from unemployment is not simply a matter of discrimination against women, although it is clearly that. It is a loophole that exists because domestic labor has always been seen as “less than,” because wives and mothers – and the Black and Brown women who have always performed this kind of work – are seen as “less than.”
Our union is sponsoring Assembly Bill 1993, introduced by Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, a Democrat from Los Angeles, to close this disgraceful loophole and extend unemployment insurance to parent and spouse IHSS caregivers once and for all. As we work to rebuild California’s post-pandemic economy, we need to level the playing field for all workers, and we must use this opportunity to correct sexism and racism where we see it.
AB 1993 is making its way to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. If he truly believes in a California for all, I urge him to sign it. For the 122,240 parent and spouse providers who take on IHSS care, it is a labor of love – but make no mistake, it is labor and deserves the rights and protections of any other job.