Evermore Submits Outside Witness Testimony to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies
Chairwoman Murray, Ranking Member Blunt, and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony pertaining to fiscal year (FY) 2022 appropriations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Your leadership has resulted in major advances in the health and wellbeing of Americans, as well as ensuring that our taxpayer dollars are appropriated to our nation’s most pressing health and human needs.
I submit this testimony on behalf of Evermore, a nonprofit dedicated to making the world a more livable place for bereaved families by raising awareness of the consequences and implications of bereavement for society, advancing sound research that drives policy and program investments, and advocating on behalf of bereaved families for whom very limited legal protections are available in the aftermath. The purpose of my testimony today is to alert you to an emerging public health concern–bereavement–and its impact on millions of families throughout the nation. Bereavement shares a powerful intersectionality with multiple national public health emergencies, including COVID-19, overdose, homicide, and suicide. As such, bereavement plays a key gatekeeping role in determining whether we as a nation can turn the corner on these ongoing public health crises towards national recovery and wellbeing. This watershed moment offers us a rare opportunity to effect long-needed and long-awaited systemic changes.
Coalition Letter to U.S. President Joe Biden
Dear Mr. President,
Thank you for your service and leadership to our country.
On behalf of bereaved families throughout America, we request you safeguard American families by including bereavement leave as part of your agenda to expand family leave benefits and protections.
As the nation confronts concurrent mortality tragedies, employment protection for the newly bereaved has never been more important. Bereavement leave is job protection and millions of Americans who have lost a loved one have no legal right to take leave, with narrow exceptions in two states and two localities. Currently, bereavement is not acceptable grounds for taking unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, except for miscarriage or stillbirth losses or when a solider is killed in action. This chasm not only leaves millions of Americans at risk for losing their job, but also can be a precipitating event that can send an individual or family into poverty, homelessness and other dire outcomes that can alter a person’s life trajectory permanently.
Employers Should Have Clear, Written Bereavement Leave Benefit Policies
The unexpected death of a loved one is the most common traumatic experience Americans report, many report their loss as their worst life experience. Employees who need time off from work to grieve and cope with the death of a loved one have no legal right to take leave, with narrow exceptions in two states and two localities. Bereavement is not acceptable grounds for taking unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, despite recent efforts to add bereavement to this law. While many employers offer bereavement leave, it is often only a few days, which is insufficient time for most employees to return to work and productivity after the death of a family member.
As our nation faces the coronavirus pandemic, drug overdoses, suicide and mass gun violence events, employers are forced to acknowledge bereavement and its implications for families, while staying solvent and productive. It is a difficult balance for employers to strike. To address these needs and set national standards, Evermore recommends employers institute a bereavement leave benefit (note: not to be confused with sick leave):
Employers Bereavement Guidelines
- Employers with five or more employees should have clear, written bereavement leave benefit policies in employee handbooks or outlined in similar guidance.
- Small employers (fewer than 50 employees) should offer five days of unpaid leave to bereaved employees following the death of a close family member; thereby, permitting individuals to return to work at the conclusion of the five-day unpaid, leave period.
- Mid-sized employers (between 50 and 499 employees) should offer five days of paid leave following the death of a close family member and employees should have the option of two additional weeks of unpaid bereavement leave; thereby, permitting individuals to return to work at the conclusion of the 15-day leave period.
- Large employers (more than 500 employees) should offer ten days of paid leave following the death of a close family member and employees should have the option of two additional weeks of unpaid bereavement leave; thereby, permitting individuals to return to work at the conclusion of the 20-day leave period.
Help Bereaved Mothers and Babies Receive Bereavement Care
Want to help bereaved mothers and children, here’s what you can do:
The Maternal and Child Health Bureau Title V block grant is one of our nation’s most significant investments in health and wellbeing. The $6.5 billion program reaches every state and jurisdiction in the nation touching an estimated 55 million people, including pregnant women, infants, children and children with disabilities. Nearly every infant and mother benefits from the program, while more than half of all American children are helped. Want to help bereaved mothers and children, here’s what you can do:
Evermore Submits Letter to American Psychiatric Association Supporting Amendments to Prolonged Grief Disorder for Children and Adolescents
The unexpected or untimely death of a loved one is the most common traumatic life event touching Americans; many of them ranking it the worst event of their lives. Today, an estimated ten million children have experienced these uniquely devastating losses. Grief itself is an individual and iterative process. It is an exogenous shock that irrevocably alters lifelong health development pathways alongside other social and economic aspects of our lives. While the decision to pathologize grief is one of the most controversial and polarizing topics among leading bereavement professionals, we know that the planning, delivery, and reimbursement of appropriate treatment and care requires the identification and diagnosis of real conditions. When it comes to bereavement, many of today’s debates overlook one essential and often invisible demographic: minority and impoverished children.
Death and bereavement disproportionately impact communities of color, thereby widening and exacerbating the health and health care disparities that marginalize our nation’s most vulnerable children. Given the limited resource allocations devoted to these communities, Evermore:
(1) Strongly endorses the prolonged grief disorder (PGD) amendments proposed by Drs. Christopher Layne, Benjamin Oosterhoff, Robert Pynoos and Julie Kaplow for children and adolescents,
(2) Strongly encourages the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to adopt the proposed modification in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5-TR, and
(3) Strongly encourages APA to prioritize bereavement education among our nation’s mental health workforce, especially those working with children, youth, and families.
Evermore Outside Witness Testimony for the Record to U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies
Bereavement care is an essential element to any comprehensive public health strategy. Our families require more support, practitioners require more tools and resources, and we must understand more about bereavement. Research not only saves lives, but drives innovation.
Rigorous population-level studies, examining the health behaviors and outcomes of millions of people, have concluded that bereaved parents, siblings, children and spouses are all at risk of premature death as a result of such loss. This is just the tip of the iceberg: bereavement is an underlying driver of the poor health undermining our nation’s health care and social services systems.
Consider the following: Today, ten million American children are bereaved, with two million having lost a parent and a projected eight million having lost a sibling. These uniquely devastating losses alter the lifetime success of these youth. Nearly 90 percent of detained youth have experienced the death of a close loved one and 25 percent subsequently joined a gang. Research studies have found that “bereaved children experience lower self-esteem, reduced resilience, lower grades and more school failures, heightened risk of depression, suicide attempts, suicide, and premature death due to any cause, drug abuse, violent crime involvement, youth delinquency, and a greater number of, and more severe, psychiatric difficulties.”
Congress Should Amend the Family and Medical Leave Act to Make Child Death a Qualifying Reason for Leave and Job Protection
To date, an estimated 20 million Americans have experienced the death of a child. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “Studies continue to provide evidence that the greatest stress, and often the most enduring one, occurs for parents who experience the death of a child.” This stress produces untold health, social and economic impacts.
Unfortunately, few supports exist to help grieving parents remain solvent and productive. In most cities and states, employees have no legal protections if they need to take leave following the death of a child. The exact number of employers that offer bereavement leave is not known; in most cases, however, only three days of paid leave are allowed.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act is an appropriate public policy tool to afford some protections to families experiencing the loss of a child. Passage of the Parental Bereavement Act (H.R. 983/S. 559) is advocated to make the death of a son or daughter a qualifying reason for leave under FMLA. The legislation will likely be reintroduced in 2020.