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Louisville Metro Council to vote on expanding paid parental leave proposal for kinship care

An amendment to the city’s paid parental leave benefit for Louisville Metro employees would allow kinship caregivers to receive 12 weeks of leave while waiting for permanent custody.
An amendment to the city’s Paid Parental Leave benefit for Louisville Metro employees would allow kinship caregivers to receive 12 weeks of leave while waiting for permanent custody.

The city’s paid parental leave benefit ordinance for Louisville Metro employees could be amended to help kinship caregivers.

At age 53, Michael Karman chose to become a parent all over again. This time, caring for his 5-month-old grandson Levi.

Louisville Metro Council passed an ordinance in 2021 that would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for full and part-time Louisville Metro Government employees who have a child through birth or adoption, and two weeks for foster and kinship placements.

Karman applied for permanent custody and asked his employer Kentuckiana Works for paid leave to care for his infant grandson. He was told that he would be entitled to full leave, but soon after, he learned he was only eligible for two weeks because he didn’t have permanent custody.

“I think it's really a cruel and arbitrary rule that needs to be looked at,” he said. “I think they need to look at why not make the benefits available to everybody entering into this situation right?”

Karman contacted his local Metro council member, District 8 Democratic Council Member Ben Reno-Weber, and explained his situation.

Now, Reno-Weber is proposing an amendment to the city’s paid parental leave benefit ordinance for Louisville Metro employees that would allow kinship caregivers like Karman to receive 12 weeks of leave while waiting for permanent custody.

"What is happening is that we need that time right away. That's when the small child is going to have all the disruption, going to live with their grandparents and other kin, and addresses that very small gap in policy,” he said.

The ordinance passed out of the Equity, Community Affairs, Housing, Health, and Education committee unanimously last week and is headed to the full Metro Council for vote.

Karman's journey with kinship care

Karman and his wife were thrust into roles they already had thought were behind them when they learned their daughter was unable to care for her infant grandson.

Their household is one of around 60,000 in Kentucky where kinship caregivers are raising their grandchildren — the second most of any state in the country behind Mississippi.

“So, you are changing course completely from what you thought you were doing. And I'm not saying that's a negative thing, but it is a real thing to absorb and make those shifts and make some serious life decisions,” he said.

When the process began, he applied for leave with a letter of support from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, indicating they were the full time parents for Levi.

He had a supportive supervisor and coworkers. Human Resources at Louisville Metro Government told him that he would be entitled to full leave. But soon after, they said they could offer him only two weeks of paid leave as policy stated he would only be eligible for the 12 weeks after his permanent custody application was approved.

There wasn't enough clarity in the policy for them to feel like they could provide him paid parental leave of 12 weeks. Louisville Public Media independently confirmed the facts of this story with Louisville Metro.

Karman refused the offer of two weeks leave in favor of the full 12 weeks after permanent custody was approved. He said there was a trajectory that was clear: They were going to be Levi’s permanent custodians, but the timeline was out of their hands.

So with no paid parental leave, they had to scramble for child care and set aside time for family court zoom meetings, which also meant Karman missing work. He also had to rely on paid time off and sick leave to get him through.

After custody was approved a year later, he finally took the 12 weeks of paid leave from his employer.

Karman’s grandchild Levi is now a happy, joyful 18-month-old. He calls him “a little guy running for office” who says hi to everybody in the room. But he does wish he had paid leave a year ago for bonding time after the trauma of having to go from his birth mother to his grandparents.

As more people step into roles of parenting again, Karman stressed the influence employers have on their employees’ job and life satisfaction. Providing a supportive environment can go a long way in improving morale.

“The more they can step up and do for their employees, their employees are going to be more loyal, but it also improves the community,” he said.

This story has been updated.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.