Family and Dependent Support

 

How is it that a child that comes out of me, an Ed.D. student, not be eligible for the Childcare support, as opposed to one that would come out of a Ph.D. classmate? As an RWL, Ed.D. student, I take the same exact core courses as the Ph.Ds, do my 20 hours of fellowship work a week like Ph.Ds, lead student organizations, on 2 research teams, produce high quality intellectual work, get published, and present at conferences, same as the Ph.Ds, but am valued less than a Ph.D. This is not only an insult to my position, but is an intentional statement by GSE that I am devalued as person and student. I get half the years of funding (2 instead of 4), no health insurance, and no Childcare grant. Why? Why is there a clear marginalization of Ed.Ds to be less supported with institutional rights, health rights, and family rights?  Because of the the differing first letter of our tracked programs? Because of differing GRE scores? Why did I work so hard to be twice as good but be half as valued? Now I must pack up, go home to California and rely on family for childcare because without support, I cannot afford to remain closely connected with the university, colleagues, and the program. As an Ed.D., woman, person of color, I’m faced with unique obstacles of having to struggle more as a doctoral which affects me financially and personally. It should not be that I have to choose between starting a family and getting an education.

— Victoria Singh Gill, Reading, Writing, Literacy, Graduate School of Education

Penn’s health plan seems great when you don’t have to pay for anything, but when my wife was on the plan she had to pay out of pocket just to see a doctor for a normal sick visit until she reached the $300 deductible limit. When we thought she was pregnant, she had to pay full price to see a gynecologist because AETNA said it didn’t count as a “well woman exam.” After hours of research and filling out applications, we got her on an ACA plan that was better and (with the federal subsidies) more affordable. When my daughter was born we applied for Medicaid, which turned out to be an incredibly complex and time-consuming process. At one point it was not clear if my daughter was going to have coverage. I was on a research trip at the time, but still had to spend significant time and money making international phone calls to my insurance company, my wife’s insurance company, and the state Medical Assistance Office all to ensure that my daughter’s upcoming appointments would be covered.

I have certainly managed to get adequate health coverage for my family, but at significant cost to my time, finances, and mental wellbeing. And even though we finally have everything straightened out, the government is now threatening to pull support for all of the programs that make our health care affordable. Who can we turn to for support then? Penn claims to support families, but when it comes to health care, we’re basically on our own.

— Graduate Student in the School of Arts and Sciences

I am a father of four children. My wife and children are financial dependents and yet are not covered on my university health care plan. We have had the hardest time trying to apply for coverage through healthcare.gov and for the last two years have ended up needing to buy private plans costing us over $20,000. When we came to Penn, we hoped that they would cover families with dependents. This has been disappointing.

— Graduate Student in the School of Social Policy and Practice

Penn’s support to graduates with families is far from enough, especially when you are international students and your dependents are not permitted to work. My wife and I even had thought of abortion simply because we cannot “afford” to have a baby when she got pregnant a year ago. Now we have to pay for the mom and baby’s medical insurance up to seven thousand dollars plus another thousand for dental insurance. When our baby was born he was admitted to the Children’s Hospital and it ended up with some other thousands of dollars out of pocket bill after the insurance coverage. My stipend could only cover a mere margin of these expenses after paying all of our rent, utilities, food (we only eat on 300 bucks for the whole family monthly) and so on. We had to borrow all these extra money from friends, relatives, and even from our retired old parents. They are just too overwhelming. Personally, I am pushed to constantly thinking of getting another job to make our ends meet, meanwhile working day and night to finish the research projects and helping take care of the baby (because we cannot afford daycare). Stressful is a light word to conclude my situation for the past a year or so. I wish Penn could be a promise land for all the most talented graduate students around the world, not just for singles but also the ones with lovely families.

— Graduate Student in the School of Arts and Sciences

The Emergency Backup Childcare offered through the Family Center is really only a last-resort option, and doesn’t effectively support grad students with children. When I call for backup childcare, it takes 24-48 hours to get the logistics worked out — which wouldn’t work if there was a true emergency. It was also difficult to try to request the same person a second time, so I was effectively leaving my children with a stranger each time (albeit one that had had a background check).

— Graduate Student in the School of Arts and Sciences

We were on a waitlist for one Penn daycare for 18 months and still didn’t get a spot – while faculty and staff members are eligible for a discounted rate, Penn graduate students are required to pay the full $2,000+ a month. We received a grant from the Family Center at Penn, but that only covered 2-3 months of daycare. We were lucky that our advisors and DGSs were very accommodating and supportive, but this was thanks to their goodwill rather than any of Penn’s policies.

            — Pavel Khazanov, Comparative Literature, School of Arts and Sciences & Gabriela Katten-Khazanov, Psychology, School of Arts and Sciences

 

Provost Vincent Price claims that graduate students at Penn “do not have to choose between having a family and pursuing an academic career.” However, the situation facing of graduate student workers with dependents suggests otherwise. We know about the challenges that face all graduate student workers, but those with dependents must complete their work while also finding a way to pay for health insurance and the increased living costs associated with childcare and partners who cannot work. While the university grants eight weeks of leave to graduate student workers who become parents, they are still expected to complete their degrees in five years, and the family grant program is not guaranteed and comes with a  string of caveats.

 

Graduate student workers who need childcare for their dependents confront astronomical costs with limited financial support. At Penn’s own Childcare Center, the annual cost of childcare for one infant is $26,460, more than double the average annual cost in Pennsylvania. While Penn’s Family Resource Center does offer Family Grants to subsidize childcare and related expenses for graduate student families, these grants are limited to a annual maximum of “$4,000 for one child and $6,700 for two or more children.” Furthermore, the availability of Penn’s childcare services is quite limited, as graduate student workers face long waiting lists to enroll their dependents in Penn’s Children Center.

 

While Penn’s Student Insurance Plan does allow dependents to enroll, it charges a hefty premium to do so. Health insurance premiums cost $3,348 per dependent per year. Thus, a graduate student worker supporting two dependents would have to allocate, from their already limited stipend, $6,696 per year toward insurance premiums. For those whose funding has lapsed, this cost comes in addition to their own health insurance premiums, tuition, and fees.

 

Shortly after GET-UP went public in March, Penn announced that it would “commit $1M in annual funding for need-based grants to PhD students in good standing to help defray the costs of extended health insurance, as well as dependent insurance and daycare for PhDs with spouses and children.” While GET-UP welcomes this added financial investment in supporting graduate student workers with families, the scope and impact of this increase remains uncertain. For instance, will Penn increase the $4000 cap on grants to single-child families and the $6700 cap for multi-child families, which currently leaves a shortfall between the grant and real cost? Even with the increased budget, could the grant system support every graduate student worker who wanted to have a child but hasn’t due to fear of hardship? Unless Penn guarantees grants to those with dependents and announces significant increases to family grant caps, graduate student workers will continue to have to choose between having a family and pursuing an academic career.

 

GET-UP, as a union of graduate student workers, can work to lock Penn’s recent increased commitment to family support into a contract. We can also advocate for guaranteed and increased funding without caps for graduate student workers with dependents, and fight for a non-punitive family leave policy.

 


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