By DONOVAN HARRELL
The Senate’s Benefits and Welfare committee is working to resolve difficulties related to the dependent daycare benefit offered at Pitt.
Pitt’s dependent daycare benefit allows for parents to contribute a portion of their salary to a flex account to pay for daycare-related costs.
John Kozar, assistant vice chancellor for University Benefits, said at the July 21 meeting that several parents saved money in their dependent care accounts for summer camps and other opportunities that have been cancelled because of the pandemic.
Unfortunately, the dependent care accounts aren’t flexibile in allowing for contributions to be returned, Kozar said.
“Dependent daycare has been a pain in the side, in the sense that it’s out of our control,” Kozar said. “I have to rely on what the IRS allows us to do.”
If it were up to him, he said, he’d return the contributions immediately, possibly in the form of miscellaneous after-tax income. However, the IRS has not provided the means to return the contributions, Kozar said.
“We're doing what we can to get the green light from the IRS to release those funds back to all faculty and staff,” he said. “But that’s where it stands right now. I feel bad about it, but truly, our hands are tied with the IRS.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused several challenges related to childcare for Pitt faculty and staff.
Since the pandemic has forced schools to close their doors, parents have had to juggle their responsibilities at work, since they are unable to send their children to school or daycares, including Pitt’s Child Development Center.
University Senate President Chris Bonneau said in the Educational Policies Committee on July 20 that this is “at some level, an unrectifiable problem,” since the schools aren’t open.
He added that he’s hoping that HR will remain flexible in terms of working remotely or working non-traditional hours in light of these issues. This is a difficult problem for faculty and staff, and a solution isn’t clear.
At the same meeting, Joe McCarthy, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies, said that Flex@Pitt provides more flexibility for faculty to juggle these responsibilities.
“Unlike a lot of other schools, we're not asking faculty to justify remote instruction,” McCarthy said. “If faculty have some reason, it might be that they have a 2-year-old at home, it might be that their second-grader can’t go to class, can’t be in school and so they need to be home — those faculty will be able to work with it to figure out how they’re going to remotely be in the classroom for their flexible instruction session.”
McCarthy said that the Center for Teaching and Learning has recently published a Flex@Pitt playbook to outline the instructional model. This can be an additional resource for parents trying to figure things out at home, he said.
“So, you know, we really built as much flexibility as humanly possible into this model, and we're trying to get the technology in place to allow faculty to really leverage the power of that technique.”
At the faculty town hall meeting on July 23, Provost Ann Cudd said Pitt has found an organization that provides an online tool for matching available childcare slots with people who need childcare. She said they will hold a webinar the week of Aug. 3 with this organization so Pitt employees can learn how to use the online tool. HR also will be getting trained on the tool, so they can help staff and faculty with children.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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