How COVID-19 May Increase Support for Federal PFML Laws

June 16, 2020
Photo of a father with his young child

A new survey suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing voter support for a permanent government program for paid family and medical leave. The prospect of getting sick from the coronavirus — or needing to care for a family member who’s ill — has shifted people’s thinking.

The Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland conducted the survey March 11-25. It shows rising support from both Democratic and Republican voters.

Two-thirds of Americans now believe the temporary federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act — or something like it — should be made permanent. As the pandemic worsened, support went up.

67% of Voters Surveyed Support a Payroll Tax

A remarkable 67% of voters favor a proposal in current legislation to provide a system of paid family and medical leave that would be:

  • More expansive
  • Supported by a new payroll tax
  • Permanent

The survey asked people to consider a proposal based on the FAMILY Act (H.R. 1185; S. 463) and the PAID Leave Act (S.3513). The proposal required all employers to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave if an employee needs to:

  • Take time off to recover from a serious health condition
  • Care for a family member with a serious health condition
  • Take care of a newborn or newly adopted child

Workers would receive two-thirds of their wages up to a maximum of $4,000 a month. Benefits would be paid from a federal government trust fund, supported by a new payroll tax.

The survey told respondents that the amount of the payroll tax would be 0.62% of employees’ salaries — paid evenly by employers and employees. That's the percentage recommended by a Social Security actuarial study. But the real proposed legislation calls for a lower tax of 0.4%. The lower percentage might generate even more support.

Who's Driving the Increased Support for PFML?

A previous survey from March 5-10 that asked the same question showed voters' support at 61%. The increase to 67% is driven by a rise in support by Republicans (from 38% to 48%). What’s also intriguing:

  • Support is especially high among younger Republicans — 59% of ages 18 – 34 and 52% of ages 35 – 44.
  • Support ramped up among older Republicans (65 and older) as the pandemic worsened, from 25% to 38%.
  • Support by Democratic voters also increased, but by a less significant amount — from 83% to 86%.

What About Required PFML Without a Payroll Tax?

The survey offered another option to people who didn't support the proposed paid medical and family leave plan. Would they favor a law that required employers to provide 12 weeks of leave, but without government funding covered by a new tax?

Many said yes. When combined with those who favored the payroll tax plan, total support for some type of required medical and family leave rose to 87%:

  • 79% total support from Republicans
  • 95% total support from Democrats

Fewer People Support Tax Credit Advances for New Parents

In contrast, there was less support on both sides for a legislative proposal to benefit new parents.

The survey asked whether voters would support a proposal based on the Advancing Support for Working Families Act (H.R. 5296; S. 2976). If passed, it would provide tax credits to parents of newly born or adopted children — money that could help them take leave.

The survey proposed a law that would:

  • Provide a $5,000 advance per child
  • Recoup the advance by reducing the parents' existing yearly child tax credit from $2,000 to $1,500 per child for 10 years

The survey framed this proposal as either an alternative to the paid leave proposal or a complement to it. Views were split — 50% in favor, 49% opposed. For this proposal, the results from the second survey didn't change much from earlier results.

How Will Congress Respond to Increased Support for PFML?

Support for PFML was high among Americans before the coronavirus pandemic. But Republicans were generally opposed. As the crisis worsened and affected more families, support increased from both Democrats and Republicans.

With a November election looming, will voters’ widespread support affect what Congress does about a permanent PFML policy? And what effects would required paid family and medical leave have on your workplace?

For insights on current changes to leave policies, check out COVID-19 U.S. Paid Leave Landscape.

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