KINGSTON, R.I. – November 20, 2015 — Three University of Rhode Island researchers have found high levels of satisfaction among Rhode Islanders who took advantage of the state’s new temporary caregiver insurance. But out of an initial survey sample of about 900 individuals, 49 percent said they were unaware of the program.
About 51 percent of those who were aware of the program knew how it could be used, but were less aware of how the program is funded and what the level of wage replacement is. One of the surprising findings was that only 9 percent of the respondents learned of the program from their doctors.
Barb Silver, assistant research professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island’s Schmidt Labor Research Center, Helen Mederer, URI professor of sociology, who holds a dual appointment at the Schmidt Center, and Emilia Djurdjevic, assistant professor of management at the College of Business Administration, conducted the research project.
Launched in February 2015, the one-year anniversary of the temporary caregiver program, the study was funded by a $161,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to Rhode Island’s Department of Labor and Training. Rhode Island’s labor office hired URI as a subcontractor to do the research. Temporary caregiver insurance is entirely paid for by employees. Rhode Island is only one of three states that offer such a program, and about 4,000 Rhode Islanders have participated. The United States joins Papua New Guinea and Swaziland as the only countries in the world that do not offer a national paid family leave program.
The Department of Labor has been awarded an additional $235,000 grant to conduct further study, which will also be directed by the URI research team. The study will examine where the awareness gaps are, and why the program is not used as much to take care of seriously ill family members, including elders. The additional funding will also be used to develop and launch new outreach programs targeted at underserved populations and continue to build community support through partnerships with advocacy organizations.
“We will be marketing the program to employees and employers, and encourage them to use temporary caregiver insurance,” Silver said. “We may especially target physicians’ offices given that so few people heard about the program from their doctors. We want to make sure people know they can use this leave program to care for ill family members as well.”
“We also have work to do to educate people about the wage replacement aspect of this program,” Djurdjevic said. “Participants receive 60 percent of their wages during the four weeks they might use the program. They should also know that they don’t have to use the four weeks consecutively.”
Mederer said the purpose of the program is not to be nice to workers.
“The purpose is to have effective caregivers and effective workers,” Mederer said. “We need effective caregivers and workers to make society tick. Our research also showed that participants feel less stress, report better health, provide better care to their loved ones, and transition back to work more easily because of the program. We know that all of these relate to improved health outcomes, which means less cost for our health care system and less absenteeism at work. There is such a societal impact here. We cannot afford to treat workers just as working drones.”
To participate in the just-completed survey, respondents had to have experienced a life event in 2014—the arrival of a child, of the serious illness of a family member. About 77 percent of those enrolled in the program used it for care of a new child, while only about 23 percent used it for care of an elderly or sick family member.
A sub-sample of the survey participants polled on satisfaction with the state’s paid leave program for taking care of a new child, showed more than 75 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with the state program versus 45 percent who took other forms of leave. In fact, on questions about ability to reorganize their lives, maintain financial stability, arrange childcare, initiate nursing and bond with their child, participants in the state program were much more satisfied than those who took other forms of leave.
And even though participation was lower for those caring for an elderly or other sick family member, 85 percent of those who used it for that reason said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the level of care they could provide under the state program compared to 71 percent who said they were satisfied or very satisfied with care they could provide under other forms of leave. Their level of satisfaction with the state program in other areas was lower than those caring for a child, but it was still higher than those who took other forms of leave.
The following comment from a participant in the program and survey might highlight why there is a difference between the two groups:
“I think that it’s a great program, especially if it has to do with a sick family member. It seems to me that it’s easier to get leave for a child, but not as easy to take leave for a sick family member.”
A participant who took temporary caregiver insurance to care for a child said, “Taking leave was definitely good for bonding and getting my life in order. It didn’t impact my relationship with my spouse. It helped us realize that we both need to be involved and we needed to work together.”
One other said, “It was very appreciated by my wife for me to be home. It was just great. Being home with him once he got home and bond with him was great for both him and my wife…Bringing a new baby home and having a way to take the time without suffering financially was the biggest help. I wouldn’t trade that time I got to spend right when he was born for anything.”