Guest Opinion: CA Senate Bill 951 matters to our community

  • by Mimi Demissew
  • Wednesday September 14, 2022
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Mimi Demissew. Photo: Courtesy OFC
Mimi Demissew. Photo: Courtesy OFC

California is a beautiful state, there's no question about it. As a state we lead the nation in many ways, from affordable access to education, legal protections for our most vulnerable, and employee-friendly policies. Not to mention the weather and access to nature is incredible. What's also incredible is the number of working families who struggle to meet the needs of their children. Paid Family Leave, or PFL, is not accessible to working families. California has inadvertently created a feudal system where working families pay into a fund that they cannot access while wealthier families who contribute less into the fund get to enjoy PFL.

Many of you may not be thinking about PFL, but what if you had to be out of work due to a disability? Would you be able to live on only half of your paycheck? Many Californians are already struggling to live on their full paycheck. And when it comes to our community, LGBTQ+ workers often earn lower wages due to ongoing systemic discrimination. Currently, workers who cannot afford a 40% pay cut either cannot take PFL or risk hunger, homelessness, or debt when they apply to PFL or need medical leave for their own conditions. This need is magnified for transgender workers who are significantly more likely to earn low wages and more likely to have health risks than the general population.

How does PFL currently work? State Disability Insurance (SDI) and PFL provide all but the lowest income workers with 60% of their regular wages when they are unable to work due to their health or family caregiving obligations. The programs are 100% funded by workers' wages. That means that since low-wage workers cannot afford to get by on their low benefits they are forced to return to work, while their contributions into the fund go to subsidize wealthier, generally whiter families' leaves. The data shows workers making $80-$100K annually use PFL at four times the rate of lower wage workers.

This is why Our Family Coalition is among the many organizations that co-sponsored Senate Bill 951. This bill would make access to SDI and PFL more equitable by providing low-to-middle income earners with 90% of their regular income. The bill would make this possible by deleting a loophole that allows workers who make over $145K per year to contribute less of their income into the fund than lower-wage workers.

Essentially, this bill would help provide greater protections to our community. Our families are less likely than our heterosexual counterparts to have a family network to offer alternate child care or back up economic support during leave, due to social stigma and family rejection. As a result, under the current system, LGBTQ+ families are being denied the ability to properly bond with our newborns or newly placed adopted children. OFC's recent study of LGBTQ+ headed households found that about 60% of LGBTQ+ headed households noted adequate child care as being an important to very important parenting challenge.

Further, our community is more likely to become family caregivers for older adults. They further report having more significant caregiving responsibilities, for instance, when a spouse needs care and is no longer connected with their biological family. Simply put, LGBTQ+-headed households are more likely to be harmed if Governor Gavin Newsom does not sign this bill.

Audre Lorde writes, "My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style." It is our organization's mission to support and advocate for LGBTQ+ families. Last year, Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 123, which would have increased wage replacement rates for PFL and SDI. This year, SB 951 went through the state Assembly and Senate with even greater support from more legislators, organizations, and businesses.

If the governor fails to sign SB 951 by the end of the month, California will actually backtrack on both SDI and PFL with rates going further down to 55% of wages. We need to expect more from our leaders and we expect more from our governor. Californians need to thrive, and our community in particular is tired of always being expected to survive. We need to live and thrive!

Mimi Demissew, who identifies as queer, is the executive director of Our Family Coalition.

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