Leaders Need to Step Up for Paid Leave

 By Tia Washum

To be a productive member of society, sometimes you must take care of yourself first. For some, this is nearly impossible. How can you care for yourself when you have limited resources and choices due to low wages and lack of benefits like paid leave? Imagine if, daily, you had to experience the constant questions: “How am I going to survive? How do I pay the rent? How do I afford gas for my car when my expenses are higher than my paycheck?”


Some of our neighbors exist; they do not really get an opportunity to live. Daily life is full of uncertainty, and emotions range from terror to depression.



What does it mean for our neighbors to be unable to take a vacation or paid sick day? Members of our community are scared or unable to take a time off in high-stress, low-paying jobs. Paid time off is necessary for healthy work-life balance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than half of leisure and hospitality worker have paid vacation time. In Indiana, nearly one in three workers lacks paid sick days. Even when some workers have paid time off, they may be unable to use it because they depend on overtime and fear falling behind because they live from paycheck to paycheck or the culture at their work doesn't support it. As many as 55% of Americans report do not use their vacation time. That needs to change.

Why does America spend more money on health care per person than other countries, but still our American people are struggling - especially people of color and low-income individuals? The United States actually performs worse than other comparable countries on some common health metrics like how long people live, how many infants die, and how many people struggle with diabetes and other health issues. Paid leave is part of the answer. When workers do not have the leave they need -- most often because they could not afford unpaid leave -- they may defer or forego necessary medical treatment. Paid leave also increases rates and duration of breastfeeding, improves rates of on-time vaccination, reduces infant hospital admissions, and reduces the odds of a new mother experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression and improves new mothers’ health. 

Paid leave should be available to support mental health, too, especially in caregiving occupations. When you give so much of yourself in your work, you need time to replenish or else you will be empty. Businesses want productivity; they need to be willing to give opportunities to recharge and renew motivation. Paid leave has been shown to prevent employees from quitting and increases their loyalty to their place of employment.
 
Paid leave can add to quality of life for individuals and our communities as a whole. So why isn’t it available to all in Indiana? Is it because our policymakers are not affected by this issue that has the American people in disarray or is it that our policymakers just will not come together for one moment to make a healthy choice for our American citizens? Life on life’s terms will continue to show up. We can’t control what life brings, but we can control policy. We need leaders who will step up and make paid leave a priority.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Hoosier Women Sound the Alarm: COVID-19, Job Losses, & Financial Black Holes

 Hoosier Women Sound the Alarm:

COVID-19, Job Losses, & Financial Black Holes

 

Throughout the pandemic, staff at the Indiana Institute for Working Families have been surveying and interviewing Hoosiers across the state about their financial well-being. Recent responses from Hoosier women raise alarm bells and add nuance to what we have seen emerging in other forms of state and national data. 

 

The evidence is mounting: While men may be more likely to suffer poor health outcomes from COVID-19, women are more likely to suffer from its economic impacts. Given that Hoosier women earned less, owned less, and were more likely to experience poverty before the pandemic began, this is a troubling trend. Below, we offer a summary of what Hoosier women have been telling us.




Women Need - but are Losing - Jobs


Receiving the terrible news from an employer that the company is eliminating your position, putting you on furlough, cutting hours, or going out of business can spark a cascade of financial consequences. That is especially true for Hoosier households that lack the savings to go weeks without a paycheck. Prior to the pandemic, approximately four in ten Hoosier households lacked sufficient savings to weather a $400 emergency. During this pandemic-induced recession, job losses and cuts to hours happened on a massive scale, with more women than men experiencing lay-offs and heavier losses among Black and Latinx workers as well as low-income families: 28% of workers in families making <$40k lost jobs compared to 13% of workers in families making more than $100k/year. “I am a single parent with a baby and 2 school agers and I have no job,” a mom from Central Indiana shared, noting “I am use to working full time.” “My hours were cut for four months,” reported another Indianapolis woman who told us she is struggling to keep up with bills. Approximately four in ten Hoosier women has experienced a loss of employment income in their household since March 13, 2020 – and national data suggest Black women and Latinas have been hit even harder.

 

COVID-19 has hit a number of female-dominated occupations hard. Occupational segregation is high in categories like healthcare support, personal care and service, food preparation and serving and education and training. Continuing unemployment claims for the week ending October 3rd show that ‘accommodation and food service,’ ‘health care and social assistance,’ and ‘educational services’ categories made up nearly one in four claims. Even when their jobs were disrupted, white male workers were more likely to maintain ties to their employer, possibly increasing their chances of getting back to work quickly. By September, national unemployment rates for adult men (7.4%) and white workers (7.0%) trended lower than rates for adult women (7.7%), Black workers (12.1%) and Latinx workers (10.3%).

 

Beyond job losses and cuts to hours, demands at home are also pulling women out of the workforce. In July, 27% of working mothers reported that they expected to work less or stop working if schools did not have in-person classes versus 17% of working fathers; that appears to be bearing out, as in September, four times as many women as men left the workforce. A number of women told us about having to make impossible decisions because of caregiving needs. “I left my job because my son was premature and I didn’t want to get him sick,” reported a mom from Hamilton County. Another mom from Allen County shared that she was concerned that I may have to quit my job or go part-time to help my kids with remote learning.” “My child’s teacher expects someone to sit next to my child for the entire day,” reported a third, who went on to note, “The stress it puts on my job (which unreasonably wants me in the office rather than working remotely which is a safer option) makes me feel like I should have sent my child to school. But then I would have felt guilty about possibly exposing my family even more.”

 

These work-caregiving tensions are draining women in more ways than one. “I just wonder every day if I will ever be back to where I was financially. To be the breadwinner as a working mom is emotionally and psychologically draining in a way people don’t always get. I used to think being a working mom was the best thing ever. Now I feel like a disappointment at everything,” said one mom from Central Indiana. This pressure may be compounded by employers’ expectations that men continue working as usual. “My husband can’t really take off because they expect the spouses to carry the burden of schooling,” an Indianapolis mom reported. A recent poll suggests that 63% of women are primarily responsible for e-learning, as compared to 29% of men.

 

Among those still working, a number of women also noted their concerns about the precariousness of their employment status. One woman from Marion County shared that both she and her husband feared losing their jobs. “This has injected into the situation a level of uncertainty that leads us to fear any financial decision-making,” she reported. “We were prepared for the bottom to fall out from under us at any minute-- and still are.” Another said, “With two kids in daycare/child care, the threat of quarantine is constantly looming over us.” Recent Census Bureau survey data suggests that nearly two in ten Hoosier women expect that their household will lose employment income in the month of October. While some have paid leave to attend to illnesses or caregiving needs that arise because of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, carve-outs to this program coupled with reduced demand in certain sectors leave many others teetering on the edge.

 

Some women in households that had lost jobs expressed concerns about timely and fair access to unemployment insurance. “My husband applied for unemployment months ago and still has never received a decision,” said one mother from Hamilton County who also told us they were nearing the end of their household savings. Another working mother from Madison County reported losing her job due to childcare disruptions and not receiving unemployment. Census Pulse data suggests that 345,366 women received unemployment benefits; 122,683 applied but have not received benefits, although caution should be used in relying on this data due to large standard error rates. However, providing support for these concerns, the Century Foundation estimates that Indiana is among the slowest states to process claims. For those that have received unemployment, concerns linger about how long boosted unemployment will last and the sufficiency of regular unemployment. "I have been expected to live on $200/week when I used to make $18/hour," a mother from Madison County told us. "It's impossible and I'm drowning." 

 

A Financial Hole

 

Among those with lost income, women reported they felt as though they were digging a financial hole – either by depleting their savings or taking on debt. Prior to the pandemic, nearly one in three Hoosiers with a credit file had debt in collections with even higher proportions of delinquent debt in communities of color – meaning many entered the crisis on thin ice. Many of those with savings have dipped in; about one in ten households nationwide reported borrowing from or cashing out retirement savings by the end of July, and more recent data suggests that one in three households had dipped into savings or retirement accounts by mid-August. This is particularly concerning for women given that they tend to have lower retirement savings balances and need to save more. “We definitely took a financial hit, but luckily we had a good cushion before,” reported one respondent.

 

Those without savings have turned to borrowing. Approximately one million Hoosiers 18 or over have used credit cards or loans to pay for expenses in recent weeks. One Central Indiana woman reported that she was falling behind on bills and has “to use credit card more to buy needed items.” Another shared that she had “bills put on hold. Credit is hurting because of it. Times don't seem to be getting any better either.” Damaged credit scores may create a drag on recovery as they factor into Hoosiers’ ability to get jobs, apartments, insurance, and loans. It was a top complaint category from Hoosiers to the CFPB early on in the COVID-19 crisis.

 

Still others are simply falling behind on basics. "I am two months behind on rent as all my disposable income has been depleted since COVID began. I used to pay my rent on time up until August. I'm very worried about myself and the children and our home," a mother from Indianapolis reported. While she's applied for rental assistance, there isn't nearly enough to meet the needs and new restrictions mean many won't qualify for help. "My utilities are subject to disconnect and I'm behind on rent," another told us. 


At the same time, women reported increased expenses, meaning that regardless of income changes, money is not going as far. About three in ten women over 18 are finding it difficult paying for usual household expenses (460,161 somewhat difficult and 301,795 very difficult), and women are more likely to report difficulty paying bills than men.  We had a relative stay with us for 3 months when her college shut down and with our kids being home daily our utilities have increased drastically.  We won't be caught up until the end of the year,” one woman reported. Residential electric bills have increased in many localities statewide, supporting this observation. “We have had to spend more money on child care/education due to required distance learning,” another family reported. “Jobs never had layoffs, but grocery prices have increased,” another reported. A USDA “low-cost” food plan for a family of four has increased to $204.50/week in September 2020, up from $197.90/week in February of 2020. In August, 341,446 Hoosier households received assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, with an average monthly benefit of $370.96/month/household. 

 

Impact on Relationships & Mental Health

 

Hoosier women also described impacts beyond finances - “isolation has forced me into more contact with my abusive ex husband,” wrote one, while another shared that she lost her cousin to COVID-19. Still another said, “Although our finances did not change, the fear and social aspects of pandemic have changed our lives.” We acknowledge that even for those who have not experienced financial challenges, COVID-19 has led to other losses and challenges.


Recent data estimate that more Hoosier women than men report experiencing anxiety and an inability to stop worrying. An estimated 766k women experienced anxiety "more than half of days" or "nearly every day" compared to 458k Hoosier men. Similarly, 451,144 women were estimated to be feeling down or depressed “more than half of days” or “nearly every day” as compared to 342,085 Hoosier men. Clearly, attending to the challenges beyond financial well-being will also be crucial. 

 

Will Women Struggle to Re-Enter the Workforce?

 

Women have also cautioned us that they anticipate barriers to re-entering the workforce. The instability and lack of affordability of child care is among them. In July, the National Association for the Education of Young Children predicted that fewer than two in ten childcare providers could be expected to last the year without financial support. That’s because the pandemic threw new challenges into an already-fragile system that lacks sufficient public investment and in which parents pay more than they can afford. Just over 2800 Hoosier children were on the waiting list for childcare assistance at the end of September.

 

Discrimination is another. “I am pregnant and finding a job that is comfortable hiring a pregnant woman is difficult due to the uncertainties of COVID-19,” reported one Hoosier. Still others worry about – or have already experienced – having to take a much lower-paying position to get back into the workforce. However, some have found that the job loss they experienced may have been a blessing in disguise, as they returned to the workforce in a higher-wage position.   

 

Hoosier Women Want Policymakers to Act

 

Women expressed their desires for policy action in no uncertain terms. “Where is help?!” asked one mother from Indianapolis. “Put suffering people before politics,” said another. Women and their families are struggling, while their cries for help are lost in the political back-and-forth.  

 

Some, recognizing the interconnectedness of supporting businesses and supporting employees, want to see “more help for companies who are struggling so they can keep their workers.” Others want to see greater protections for workers across places of employment, like “job protection for high risk people” and “paid leave for all parents, not just those who work for a certain size employer.”  

 

A number of women also cried out for support managing caregiving, and with e-learning in particular. “Support stay at home parents caring and teaching the next generation!” one pleaded. “Figure out a way to take so much of the burden off women to just figure out how to manage educating children, still working, and everything else,” said another.  

 

More stimulus, increased unemployment, and paid leave surfaced repeatedly as suggested approaches to shore up families’ financial well-being. We echo their calls. Supporting Hoosier women – both with the current effects of the pandemic recession and with the long-term financial and emotional damage it is likely to create – deserves our policymakers’ immediate attention.

 

 *Thank you to the Women's Fund of Central Indiana for supporting this work.*


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Housing Coalition provides Housing Stability Yardstick

With maxed-out rent assistance, Indiana is running out of time to prevent a tsunami of evictions as COVID-19 resurges 


By Andrew Bradley, Jessica Fraser, and Michaela Wischmeier


With nearly maxed-out rental assistance programs, Indiana is running out of time to prevent a tsunami of evictions starting August 1, even as COVID-19 resurges through the state. Self-inflicted funding limits and a lack of statewide coordination between state and city rent assistance programs have set Indiana further back on the timeline needed to advance to higher stages of housing stability. In response, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition (HHNC) proposes a yardstick to measure the steps necessary to ensure COVID-19 housing stability.


On July 13, the State of Indiana and City of Indianapolis opened their COVID-19 emergency rental assistance programs after weeks of planning. In a little over a week, the state program had received 17,491 applications[1] for a program expected to serve 12,000 households, and the city suspended applications after maxing out the projected capacity of 10,000 households in the first 48 hours. Including the households covered by these two programs, the HHNC estimates that no more than 50,000 households are likely to receive some form of rental assistance from the resources available from various government, faith-based and philanthropic organizations across the state at current capacity.


As a result, over 200,000 Hoosier renter households – of the estimated 258,782 who will need rental assistance before September – will remain subject to eviction and potential homelessness, if Governor Holcomb’s eviction pause expires on July 31 as planned. With Indiana’s early attempts at rent assistance nearly maxed out, thousands of Hoosier renters are at risk of spreading disease and experiencing economic calamity from losing their housing.


To prevent evictions that will cause Indiana to regress in its COVID-19 Back On Track Plan, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition has developed a ‘yardstick’ to measure four necessary steps for the state to take before Gov. Holcomb should consider lifting the eviction moratorium. The necessary steps include:


1.) Coordinate rent assistance programs to align all available funding streams. This includes stacking state and local funds and incentivizing philanthropic and private participation.

2.) Ensure equitable access to rental assistance program resources. Target outreach to highest cost burden areas and racial communities most impacted by public health, income and job loss, and housing instability.
3.) Appoint an Indiana Housing Security Task Force to advise on funding, outreach, and outcomes with expertise of landlords, impacted renters, public health and housing experts.
4.) Congress should provide adequate support for #RentReliefNow, with Indiana’s Congressional delegation as champions



    The ‘yardstick’ is as follows:


    1.) Coordinate rent assistance programs. The current Indiana COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program provides up to $500 a month for up to four months, but families receiving rent assistance from another program are not eligible to apply. This design disincentives cities and private or philanthropic partners considering creating rent assistance programs of their own, as well as prevents ‘stacking’ local and state.

    The current state program uses $25M in Coronavirus Relief Funds (of $2.4B) and $7.6M in Emergency Solutions Grant funds (of nearly $32M) allocated to the state from the CARES Act. But it leaves over $38M in Community Development Block Grants allocated to the state on the table, using none for rent assistance despite explicit authorization from HUD. funds together to help make families whole on their housing costs to avoid eviction. 


    Before the moratorium is lifted: Statewide coordination is needed to align available funding.
     The state also has not taken HHNC’s recommendations to date to provide coordination of CARES Act resources that could be used for housing stability across the state and local levels. Over a dozen Indiana cities have committed to using CARES Act resources for rent assistance, but the state has created an ‘either/or’ instead of a ‘both/and’ structure. Worse yet, while the U.S. Treasury explicitly allows CRF funds for rent assistance – and both the state and City of Indianapolis used CRF funds to launch their respective rent assistance programs, the state currently does not include rent assistance on the listof reimbursable CRF expenses for local units of government receiving CRF allocations from the state.


    2.) Ensure equitable access to rental assistance program resources. Indiana must ensure that the hardest-hit communities and Hoosiers have been given equitable access to available rent assistance, including through targeted outreach. The HHNC has found that rent assistance is Indiana’s top unmet need even during the eviction moratorium, and that low-income renters and Black and Latino Hoosiers have been most impacted by COVID-19 income loss and housing instability. And while the state has relied on others for outreach, and Indy included community partners for its program that lasted three days,  a coordinated statewide program must include metrics to ensure assistance is properly targeted to low-income renters and Hoosiers of color.


    Before the moratorium is lifted: Rent assistance must reach the top cost-burdened Hoosiers and where Black and Latino households live.


    Across Indiana, 40.4% of white renter households are cost-burdened by housing, meaning they “pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing” and “may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care.”[2] However, 44.5% of Indiana’s Latino households and 51.4% of Black households are cost-burdened.[3] In addition to Marion County, the counties with the highest rates of cost-burdened people of color include Delaware, Vigo, Johnson, Tippecanoe, Brown, Monroe, Allen, Lake, Clark, and Hendricks. For Indiana’s COVID-19 housing stability policy response to be a success, assistance must proportionally reach the most cost-burdened renters and the Black and Latino communities most impacted by the pandemic. 


    To assist with targeting outreach for Indiana and Marion County’s rent assistance programs, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition has used Census data to identify top housing cost-burdened Census tracts and areas with high proportions of Black and Latino households in the state. A larger database of these Census tracts can be found here. 


    While Indiana has housing cost burden across the entire state, Census data shows that the top 20 most cost-burdened communities in the state [excluding Marion County] have over two-thirds of their population allocating more than 30% of their income for rent each month. At 81%, Delaware County has the most cost-burdened census tract in the state. Geographically, these census tracts are spread across all parts of the state and include rural, suburban, and urban areas. 


    High proportions of Black households live in cost-burdened census tracts in many Indiana counties, including Lake, Marion, St. Joseph, Delaware, LaPorte, and Allen. In addition, large percentages of Latino households also live in cost-burdened Census tracts in many Indiana counties, including Lake, Noble, St. Joseph, Marion, Clinton, and Elkhart.


    Similar to statewide trends, the top 20 cost-burdened census tracts in Marion County all have cost-burden rates of 65% or higher. Marion County has higher rates of racial diversity in its most cost-burdened census tracts, in comparison to the state as a whole. The majority of Marion County’s 20 most cost-burdened tracts have a Black population of 25% or higher, and slightly fewer than half have a Latino population above 10%.


    3.) Appoint an Indiana Housing Security Task Force to advise on funding, outreach, and outcomes with expertise of landlords, impacted renters, public health and housing experts. Indiana’s ability to coordinate resources across funding sources could be significantly improved through a task force that includes elected officials, housing advocates, people of color and other Hoosiers most impacted by COVID-19 housing instability. While a COVID-19 task force already exists, the ‘Economic Relief and Recovery Team’ – appointed by the governor to plan, administer and account for federal relief funds the state of Indiana receives from the CARES Act – does not reflect this level of diversity and has not made housing stability a priority.


    Before the eviction moratorium is lifted: Indiana should take up the HHNC’s recommendation for Governor Holcomb to create an
     Indiana Housing Stability Task Force


    to represent renters, housing providers and investors, and experts in the connections between housing and public health in the decisions about Indiana’s COVID-19 housing policy response. This task force would help ensure that the hardest-hit communities are served as outlined above. Ideally, a representative of the Housing Stability Task Force would serve on the Economic Relief and Recovery Team on any housing-related decisions from this point forward.


    4.)  
     Congress should provide adequate support for #RentReliefNow, with Indiana’s Congressional delegation as champions. Indiana and Indianapolis have made progress in constructing pipelines for emergency rental assistance. And while each program could be expanded somewhat with existing CARES Act resources, the combined capacity is nowhere near the existing need for over a quarter of a million Hoosier households.


      Before the eviction moratorium is lifted: Resources significant enough to provide the rent assistance needed for all ‘severely cost burdened’ (paying over 50% on housing) Hoosier renters to ensure housing stability must be appropriated. Congress must come through with #RentReliefNow, and Indiana’s Congressional delegation should be out front as champions for the hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers relying on them. We urge Indiana’s Senators and Representatives to join HHNC to support $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to help low-income renters avoid evictions and homelessness; a national, uniform moratorium on evictions; $11.5 billion to help local communities address the pressing health and safety needs of people experiencing homelessness; and at least $13 billion in additional funding for HUD and USDA housing programs to ensure housing stability during and after the pandemic, including funds for 100,000 new Housing Choice Vouchers. 


      “With such limited resources in Indiana’s rental assistance programs, it is incumbent upon the State and the cities that are running these programs to target their outreach efforts in the most impacted communities,” said Indiana Institute for Working Families Director Jessica Fraser. “Otherwise, these programs run the risk of widening disparity and not solving it.”


      Jessica Love, Executive Director of Prosperity Indiana, said, “The last thing Indiana needs is for Hoosier families to be evicted and thrown out on the street or couch-surfing during a resurgent pandemic and exacerbating the surge we’re already seeing in COVID-19 cases. We can no longer afford to delay the policy decision to have a COVID-19 Housing Stability Plan in place.”


      Jessica Fraser is Director of the Indiana Institute for Working Families. Andrew Bradley is Policy Director and Michaela Wischmeier is AmeriCorps Member-Fellow for Prosperity Indiana. 


      [1] Indiana has received 17,491 applications to its COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program as of July 21 according to IHCDA.


      [2] Definition of cost burdened renter from https://www.huduser.gov/portal/pdredge/pdr_edge_featd_article_092214.html


      [3] Source: authors’ calculations of ACS 1-Year Estimates - Public Use Microdata Sample 2018 https://data.census.gov/mdat

      -------------------------------------

      About the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition:


      Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition (HHNC) was formed by members of Indiana’s housing security advocacy community in April 2020 to support advocacy and education related to housing and homelessness prevention in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Staffed by Prosperity Indiana through advocacy and coalition building grants from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Central Indiana Community Foundation, HHNC convenes partners from across Indiana to advocate for immediate, medium- and long-term housing stability policy solutions and conduct education and research to achieve federal, state, and local policies for an equitable response and recovery to the pandemic and beyond.


      The HHNC Steering Committee is comprised of members from AARP Indiana, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention (CHIP), Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis, Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Indiana Institute for Working Families – INCAA, Prosperity Indiana, and The Ross Foundation.

      Wednesday, July 22, 2020

      In Solidarity Toward Racial Justice


      Statement in Solidarity Toward Racial Justice

      We join the country in its pain and outrage over the recent murder of George Floyd, which has led us to mourn anew so many other Black lives lost to police violence and structural racism. All people, regardless of zip code, income, or race, deserve the opportunity to thrive and to contribute to their communities. For individuals like Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many others, the systems that have been in place for hundreds of years in this country have created a reality where these crimes are not only far too common but they pass by with far too little accountability. We stand in solidarity with the many Americans who have stepped forward these past few days and declared their commitment to racial justice.

      Violence against Black Americans is part of the structural racism plaguing this nation. Severe economic disparities are yet another symptom of it. For example, Black Hoosiers were more likely pushed out of employment during the recession and recovery, and Black workers are twice as likely to be low-income (54.2%) than their white counterparts (26.7%) because they are more likely to be working in low-paying occupations. Our Black neighbors are less likely to earn paid time off and more likely to experience the death of their baby before that baby’s first birthday.




      Our society can and must do better.  Our leaders need to make concerted and honest efforts to tear down racist institutions and rebuild new ones that are informed by the communities most impacted by disparities. Clearly, they should ensure that ALL Americans can feel safe and protected by our law enforcement organizations. But we must go much further to co-create a more equitable and just economy and society for Black Americans in wealth, education, housing, health outcomes, and beyond.

      While, as an institution, the Institute for Working Families strives to build a society of broad-based prosperity, we can and will keep pushing ourselves to understand our history, improve our processes, and advance anti-racist public policy. We will recruit, seek counsel from, and deeply engage with members of impacted communities to learn from them and to co-create policy solutions with them. We will disaggregate data to the fullest extent possible to help inform policymakers and the public of how communities of color and Black Hoosiers in particular are impacted by these inequalities. Recognizing that Black Hoosier women experience the highest degree of disparities in many areas of their lives, we will center Black women in policy development. We urge you to hold us accountable to these pledges, and to join us as we move forward. 

      In solidarity,
      The Indiana Institute for Working Families team,
      Jessica, Erin, Amy, Tia, Lauren, and Pamela


      To learn more about the policy changes needed to protect Black lives and dismantle systemic racial inequities, explore the resources below:

      ·       Campaign Zero provides research on evidence-based policy solutions to end police violence including community oversight, independent investigations and limiting the use of force.
      ·       The national NAACP demands justice for recent killings and the passage of criminal justice, economic, health and voting policies needed to protect Black lives.   Find Indiana's local NAACP units here.
      ·       The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities lays out three principles to guide a racially equitable policy response to COVID-19, which is disproportionately killing and harming Black Americans.
      ·       Read up on racial equity with this suggested reading list

      Wednesday, June 3, 2020

      Let's Celebrate & Expand Families First Paid Leave

      Let's Celebrate & Expand Families First Paid Leave

      Family comes first. At least, we often say that it does. But our policymakers' choices have created an economy full of low-quality jobs and a threadbare social safety net that make being there for family extremely difficult. In fact, it took a pandemic for lawmakers to finally take a historic step toward honoring our "families first" values: Congress finally put a paid leave law on the books. 

      While some Indiana legislators have pushed to create paid leave programs or, at the very least, minimal paid sick day standards for employers, our legislative leaders have refused year after year to even study the issue. When COVID-19 hit Indiana, four in five workers had no paid family leave through their job and about one million Hoosier workers could not earn a single paid sick day. The advice to “stay home when sick” and school closure announcements left these families with incredibly difficult choices.

      Fortunately, Congress stepped up to the plate. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act granted many workers two weeks of emergency paid sick leave and up to ten weeks of emergency paid family leave for school or child care closures. Enacting a paid leave standard – even a limited one – marked a historic moment. For the first time, the United States joins nearly every other country in the world in having a national paid leave policy. For at least some people in the United States, taking time off when sick or when a family member needs care no longer costs a paycheck – at least for now.


      However, loopholes cut many workers out, including health care workers, essential workers, and employees of businesses with over five hundred employees. In Indiana, that last carve-out alone cuts out an estimated 1.5 million Hoosiers who work for larger employers like big box retailers and chain restaurants. Furthermore, it is absurd to think that the people who are working to keep us healthy and safe on the frontlines in ERs or other health care facilities cannot call in sick themselves. Plus, the provisions are temporary.

      As we start to reopen, it is critical to close these loopholes. Congress must expand paid leave for workers, especially those who are likely to come into contact with many members the public. If Congress will not act, we echo the calls from elected officials like House Leader GiaQuinta and partners like Faith in Indiana who are asking Governor Holcomb to provide emergency paid leave for these workers, as other governors have done. 

      Even before this crisis, evidence showed that paid leave protects public health, keeps people attached to their jobs, and makes workplaces safer. It is unfortunate that it took a pandemic for policymakers to enact a paid leave law that covered (at least some) Hoosier workers. We celebrate and welcome the step forward we have taken as a nation in providing this paid leave standard. We cannot stop here. Paid leave will allow us to put families first and protect our health in this crisis, especially as we reopen and get back to work - and it must be accessible to all.  

      TAKE ACTION:

      ->Ask Governor Holcomb to provide paid leave for workers who were left out of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  

      ->Senator Randolph and Representative Campbell both filed paid leave bills in Indiana in the 2020 legislative session. Can you send them a quick thank you note to encourage them to keep fighting for paid leave?
           --Senator Randolph: s2@iga.in.gov
           --Representative Campbell: h26@iga.in.gov

      Thursday, May 28, 2020

      The CFPB Complaint Database Can Help Protect Hoosier Consumers


      The CFPB Complaint Database Can Help Protect Hoosier Consumers:

      Top Complaint Areas Signal Areas in Need of Intervention

      As the economic fallout from COVID-19 mounts and Hoosier families scramble to mitigate the damage, consumer complaints can play an important role in pointing to areas of economic distress. Fortunately, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established in the wake of the last financial crisis, provides both an avenue for recourse when consumers struggle with financial products and services as well as  a source of data to illuminate patterns. Our policymakers and leaders need to pay attention to these trends so they can think ahead about the potential long-term impact of this crisis and put measures in place to protect consumers.
      Between March 15th of 2020 and April 15th of 2020, Hoosiers filed approximately 200 complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The complaint data signals a potential rising tide of economic woes. Narratives related to debt collection and consumer efforts to negotiate payments plans in the wake of COVID-19 fallout suggest that not all creditors and collectors are making an effort to work with borrowers. One Hoosier borrower wrote, I have attempted to settle and close this account three times, and [the credit card company] refused twice…even though now in the coronavirus climate my wife lost half her work hours.” Another noted, “I requested…based on the coronavirus epidemic, that this company allow me to pay my debt to them electronically as opposed to sending cash…which requires me to physically go to a banking location, withdraw funds, and then take those funds to a XXXX location to send my payment, thus exposing me multiple times to potential illness….My bank provided a letter to them stating my account was open and in good standing; however, the company continues to deny me any other option for payment.” The March-April complaint data shows that 7% of complaints relate to “struggling to pay” a mortgage or other loan – a number that will likely be worth watching in the coming months.

      Breaking down these complaints by product type, it is clear that credit reporting and repair is still far and away the leading source of headaches among consumers who filed a complaint, with incorrect information on a credit report the top reason for these complaints. This is troubling, as these reports and scores have far-reaching implications for Hoosiers’ lives: they not only factor into who can get a loan and on what terms, but they also affect insurance coverage and costs, job opportunities, housing, and other essential services. Before the crisis, an estimated one in four unemployed adults reported going through a credit check when applying for a job, and one in ten reported that information on their credit report led to them being denied a job opportunity. Similarly, many landlords run credit checks when evaluating prospective tenants. Insurance companies also use credit report data to determine how likely an individual is to make a claim and set premiums accordingly. Credit reports end up being a gatekeeper for opportunity. 

      Potentially compounding the problem, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently issued guidance relaxing expectations for credit reporting agencies, the private entities that collect and use data from creditors to rate consumers’ “creditworthiness.” According to the guidance, credit reporting companies will not be expected to follow requirements and timelines for resolving disputes about credit reports. If the Bureau were truly responding to its data and looking out for consumers, it would hold these entities to higher standards, particularly given the importance of credit reports and scores as individuals strive to rebuild their lives. In the absence of leadership from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, we need to see Congressional action to direct creditors and credit reporting agencies to shield Hoosiers from damage. The legislation introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown and Brian Schatz to require a four-month moratorium on all adverse credit reporting would be an excellent place to start.
      There’s at least one source of positivity in all the negative – complaining to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau appears to be producing results for consumers, at least in some cases. One Hoosier wrote in, “After receiving no response to our letters disputing charges to our account stemming from a fraudulent charge, we filed a complaint with CFPB. As a result of this complaint…[a letter from the company said] they were removing the late fees and charges that they had added to our credit card account as a result of a fraudulent charge.” The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau notes that 97%of complaints filed - which are then forwarded on to the company - receive a timely response.
      As the crisis continues, we will need responsive government agencies and thoughtful policymaking to ensure that Hoosiers can recover and rebuild. Data – including complaint data from consumers – can provide useful signals to indicate where attention is needed. Hoosiers should continue to use the complaint database, and policymakers and leaders should pay attention.

      Do you have a complaint about a financial product or service? File it with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here.

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      Thursday, May 7, 2020

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