Grumet: Amid abortion debate, a 'pro-life' Texas does little to support mothers
As Texans celebrate mothers this weekend with flowers, mimosas and other treats — and, quite frankly, as our nation confronts what it means for a state to insist that people carry pregnancies to term — let’s talk about what Texas does to help those bringing new life into this world.
Spoiler alert: It’s distressingly little.
Let’s start with the day mom comes home from the hospital with her beautiful new baby. If she’s like three-quarters of the workers in America, her job doesn’t provide paid parental leave. Indeed, the United States is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t require it.
Read more: Abortion would be illegal in Texas if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade
That means every day mom spends healing from childbirth and bonding with her little one, she’s probably giving up income needed to support her growing family. For the typical Texas worker, taking a month off work means losing $3,000 needed for rent, food and other necessities.
Shockingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, nearly 1 in 4 moms without paid leave return to work within 10 days of giving birth.
Parents face a similar problem when the little one is running a fever or battling the flu. More than 4 million Texas workers don’t have access to paid sick leave. Taking time off to care for a sick child takes another bite out of the family budget.
Austin and a few other cities tried tackling that problem several years ago with city-mandated paid sick leave policies, but state courts have struck those down.
Of course, the Dumbo-sized elephant in the nursery is the cost of child care, which is the second-highest monthly expense for many families, behind housing. And here, no state does less than Texas.
Lawmakers receive a pot of federal money to help pay for child care subsidies, which help lower-income working parents afford day care. In Texas, though, lawmakers put the bare minimum toward child care, then use the rest of that federal money to plug other holes in the state budget related to children's services. The totally predictable result of underfunding child care subsidies: Only 1 in 6 Texas families that qualify for aid actually receive it.
It’s worth emphasizing that Texas is uniquely bad at this. In early 2020, while most other states had no one on their waiting lists, Texas had 34,396 children waiting for help with child care costs. Left without the help, a parent may forgo work or settle for cheaper, unregulated day care, where children are at greater risk for injuries or death.
Let's not forget health care coverage
By the time the baby is 2 months old, and mom is starting to get a little more sleep at night, a new worry crops up: Texas cuts off the mother’s health care coverage through Medicaid. We wouldn’t want mom to be a freeloader, right?
The reality, of course, is that women continue to face risk of postpartum depression, heart issues and other complications long after they’ve left the delivery room. In fact, a third of the maternal deaths in Texas occur between 43 days and one year after pregnancy, largely after Medicaid coverage ends. And Medicaid covers half of the births in Texas.
Nearly a year ago, lawmakers approved a bill extending Medicaid coverage from two months to six months after a mother gives birth. Would it surprise you to know that extension still hasn’t gone into effect?
At a Texas House committee hearing last week, Stephanie Stephens, the state’s Medicaid director, said Texas is just now filing its request with the feds to make this change to the state program. If all goes well, she expects “the extended coverage would apply to deliveries after October.”
Read more: COVID-19 made child care deserts even worse in 2021, leaving working parents to scramble
Yes, it really takes this long for the bureaucracy to help a mother out.
Oddly enough, though, the COVID-19 pandemic provided an assist. As long as the federally declared Public Health Emergency remains in effect, no one has been kicked off Medicaid. Women who’ve given birth have actually kept their Medicaid coverage during the pandemic.
“I love it,” said state Rep. Toni Rose, a Dallas Democrat who has fought for years to extend Medicaid coverage for new moms.
But that lasts only as long as the emergency declaration does.
Texas has the money if it's a priority
As the nation reacted this past week to the leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, Gov. Greg Abbott asserted in a radio interview that “Texas is a pro-life state.”
Really? What does that mean in a state that fails to help mothers with parental leave and sick leave, that does too little to help with child care and health care? Declaring Texas a "pro-life state" is a slogan masquerading as family values without the investment to back it up.
Perhaps you’re thinking: Paid leave, child care, health care — this stuff costs money! How is Texas supposed to pay for it?
Let’s talk about Medicaid for new moms. The top recommendation of the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force was to extend Medicaid coverage to 12 months after a person gives birth. That would cost the state about $83.4 million a year.
Report: Texas losing $2.2 billion by not treating mothers' mental health
Last year, Abbott boasted of a $1 billion surplus as he signed the budget. The comptroller has said the Legislature will be sitting on a more than $24 billion surplus when it convenes next year, prompting talk of new tax cuts. At the same time, the state has poured $3 billion and counting into an Operation Lone Star effort at the border that’s been heavy on political theater and light on results.
It’s not that Texas can’t afford to do right by mothers and families. Too many of our leaders simply prefer to spend the money elsewhere.
Other perks like paid leave typically fall on the shoulders of businesses. But Texas could design tax cuts that help offset the expense, or follow the lead of a handful of states that fund paid leave through employee payroll deductions, similar to the way temporary disability coverage is funded.
I haven’t met anyone who wants to see their own mother or partner return to work just 10 days after giving birth; who wants to see a child go to a sketchy, unlicensed day care facility because the parents can’t afford something better; who doesn’t mind when a loved one is grappling with a health issue and lacks the coverage needed for treatment.
As humans, we care about these needs of the mothers around us. As Texans, we should insist our state do the same.
Grumet is the Statesman’s Metro columnist. Her column, ATX in Context, contains her opinions. Share yours via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @bgrumet. Find her previous work at statesman.com/news/columns.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Amid abortion debate, 'pro-life' Texas does little to support mothers