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What does caregiving look like in a state like West Virginia?

It looks like a parent raising their children. It looks like a husband supporting his sick spouse. It looks like a foster parent providing for a series of children. It looks like an adult caring for an aging parent who can no longer take care of themselves. It looks like a family member rendering services for another member living with a disability.

Caregiving is a responsibility and, many times, a privilege. It takes all forms in this state, especially given our aging population and high rates of disability.

Caregiving also can frequently become a barrier to participation in many aspects of life, including running for public office.

The Caregivers as Candidates Bill (House Bill 2927) was designed to help address this barrier and create an easier pathway for people with caregiving responsibilities to participate in policymaking at a local or state level. It does this by allowing candidates to use their own campaign funds to help afford any caregiving expenditures incurred while campaigning.

In 2018, Vote Mama Foundation Founder and CEO Liuba Grechen Shirley petitioned the Federal Election Commission and became the first woman to receive federal approval to spend campaign funds on child care. Fifty-one federal candidates have since used their campaign funds to pay for child care — moms and dads. However, the FEC ruling does not apply to candidates running for state and local office. HB 2927 would bring West Virginia’s election laws up to date with this 2018 ruling to allow candidates running for state and local offices to use campaign funds for child care and caregiving expenses.

While there is no single way to describe caregiving in West Virginia, organizations across the state representing different types of caregivers support this legislation. The West Virginia chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Mountain State Centers for Independent Living and the West Virginia Developmental Disabilities Council worked on the bill. Other groups that worked on the legislation include Fair Shake West Virginia, the West Virginia State Independent Living Council, the League of Women Voters-Morgantown, Monongalia County and the WV Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parents Network.

Signing this bill into law would bring West Virginia in line with seven other states that have passed legislation to allow the use of campaign funds for child care, according to Vote Mama Foundation, which is working to pass legislation on campaign funds for child care across the United States.

If passed, this commonsense legislation can make a big difference in West Virginia. With West Virginia’s current election laws, running for office and the hectic, full-time schedule it demands, is, in many ways, impossible for those who have caregiving responsibilities and the financial weight attached to them.

As a politically active community member, I have frequently found that the legislators who are most engaged with constituent concerns are not the ones with the highest degrees or bank balances, but the ones who live life as an average West Virginian, with all of the responsibilities that that entails.

In fact, the lead sponsor of this bill, Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, is a mother to young children, much like myself, who took the time to listen to an idea and help craft this legislation. Another sponsor of the bill, Delegate Evan Worrell, R-Cabell, is a father to six children.

Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, helped broaden the focus of the bill to include people with disabilities and elder care, because of her own personal experiences as a candidate, knowing it will help others in similar situations.

Having caregiving responsibilities shouldn’t prevent any West Virginian from running for public office. Caregiving is a skill and experience that brings value to the role of a potential elected official. This bill offers an opportunity for West Virginians who have real-life experiences, like yours and mine, to help mold the policy that affects us all.

Rebekah Aranda, of Morgantown, is the legislative co-chairwoman for the West Virginia chapter of the National Organization for Women.

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