TN commission says ‘no, thanks’ to $193K federal grant

In September the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability was awarded a $193,000 federal grant that would study paid leave issues concerning caregivers in Tennessee, but — less than two months later — The Tennessean reports that the state government agency is withdrawing its application as inappropriately filed.

Jim Shulman, executive director of the commission, said the grant application was written about paid family leave and not about caregiving. While the two issues are related, the grant centered on labor and economic issues more than caregiving. He did not write the grant, but it was filed under his name and he takes responsibility, he said.

“We submitted something that was outside the scope of what this agency does,” Shulman said. “We submitted a proposal that really didn’t talk much about caregiving. We included in that a contract that wasn’t going to do what we said we were going to do. There is a problem with that.”

The withdrawal follows an editorial by state Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, in The Tennessean in October. She said such feasibility studies would do “much harm to many Tennessee workers and employers” and argued mandates tied to paid leave would delay hiring, cut pay and lead to layoffs.

A House committee had previously decided against authorizing the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development to pursue federal funds for such research, she said,

“I was happy to see it was withdrawn,” Lynn said Monday. “It’s all deficit spending by the federal government, so we really can’t afford to do studies like this.”

Lynn said paid leave policies are issues between employers and employees and those workers and their families, not the government. Most companies are often flexible with workers during difficult times, she said.

The grant was among $1.55 million awarded nationally that was dedicated to research paid leave. The Tennessee grant was meant to carry out a survey on needs and availability of paid family and medical leave in Tennessee. Upon receiving the grant, Shulman pointed to the large population of Tennesseans — roughly 1.65 million — who provide care for adults.

…Craig Fitzhugh, House minority leader who submitted a letter of support for the grant application, said… the withdrawal “represents a stunning missed opportunity for the people of Tennessee. I urge those involved with this decision to consider carefully their actions and do what is best for the public — not the politicians or personalities involved.”

Note: Here’s an emailed statement from Tennessee AFL-CIO President Billy Dycus:

“It is disappointing to see the state of Tennessee take a step backward when it comes to paid leave issues. This grant would have initiated an important chance to assess the needs of all Tennessee workers and provide our leaders with a blueprint for how to address those desires. Study or no study, we are committed to ensuring that working families have access to the best possible paid leave policies and will continue to remind lawmakers of the needs of all of their constituents, not just the privileged few.”