October is National Work and Family month. A time when we are called to recognize the stress and strains on families trying to balance their work, family-care and personal responsibilities. Trying to be loving, involved parents, individually balanced, grounded people and successful, engaged workers is not easy. In my book, Practicing Balance: How Congregations Can Promote Harmony in Work and Life, I consider the increasing stress on American families in our complex world, and the role entities like churches can play in helping confront and address the issue.
Governments have a role to play as well. Fortunately, the issue of work and family balance has attracted the attention of Congress. Over the past few years, a number of bills have been introduced by a variety of members of Congress which could help. Often, Democratic members have gained attention for their legislation, and many important ideas and bills have been introduced. However, the contributions of Republican members on this issue are too often ignored. Republican members have also introduced and passed helpful legislation to help make it easier for Americans to balance their work and family lives.
Many Americans prize time and flexibility, sometimes even over pay. More flexible work schedules are important for many Americans. At the state and local level, many hourly public employees have the choice of time off or time and a half when working overtime, yet many workers in private settings do not. Representative Martha Roby (R-AL), introduced, and the House passed, the Working Families Flexibility Act, to allow employers the option of giving private sector employees the choice of overtime pay or time off. This general legislative idea has been considered before and its not without opposition, but it does expand flexibility and would give employees more options.
Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) has introduced the Child Tax Credit Improvement Act, and Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito the Empowering Families At Home and At Work Act, to index the child tax credit to inflation and the dependent care tax credit to inflation, respectively, in order put more money in the pockets of families with children.
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers introduced the Families First Act, to support second earner spouses through tax deductions which could encourage spouses to reenter the workforce. Career ladders and reentry into the workforce when a spouse has left for caregiving reasons remains a challenge. Such legislation could help.
Significantly, a bipartisan group of House and Senate members have introduced legislation and voted to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) for the first time since 1996. On September 15, the House of Representative passed CCDBG reauthorization by voice vote. Time ran out before it was able to pass the Senate in September, but on November 12 the Senate will take up the legislation and it is expected to pass overwhelmingly that week. These votes are a culmination of several years of discussions among Members of Congress in both chambers, among Democrats and Republicans, about child care, which is critical in allowing many working parents, including single parents, to work. Legislative improvements are important to better ensuring that the 11 million children under age 5 in child care throughout America every week are in a setting that is both safe and promotes their healthy developments. Representatives John Kline (R-MN), Todd Rokita (R-IN), George Miller (D-CA), Todd Rokita (R-IN) and David Loebsack (D-IA), as well as Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), negotiated the bill which will provide support for many working parents with child care needs.
These are just some of the work and family policy bills which Republicans have introduced, in addition to many Democrats have developed.
Recognizing the bipartisan nature of the work and family issue is important for real activity, action and results to occur in Congress. Members of both parties deserve credit. The leadership of Republican members on work and family issues is good for families and the country. They deserve to be noticed.