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Support for Permanent Paid Medical and Family Leave Is Strong, Rising

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Shift in Republicans’ Views Shows How COVID-19 Is Changing Politics, Survey Finds

Via Maryland Today / By Chris Carroll 

Shift in Republicans’ Views Shows How COVID-19 Is Changing Politics, Survey Finds

Two-thirds of Americans believe the kind of temporary paid family and medical leave recently signed into federal law for those affected by the novel coronavirus should be permanent, with the result fueled by a marked shift among Republican voters, a survey by University of Maryland researchers found.

In March, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided two weeks of paid leave for people sickened by COVID-19, or providing care for someone who has it, along with 12 weeks at two-thirds pay for parents caring for children home from closed schools and child care facilities. The new benefits are set to expire at the end of 2020.

A March 11-25 survey conducted by the Program for Public Consultation (PPC) found that 67% of voters favor a proposal in current legislation that would provide a permanent system of paid family and medical leave that would be more expansive and supported by a new payroll tax.

This support is up from 61% in an earlier wave of the survey—conducted March 5-10—when the epidemic was in its early stage in the United States.

This increase is heavily driven by a surge in Republican support from 38% in early March to 48% in the later survey. Support from Democrats rose from 83% to 86%. Support is especially strong among younger Republicans, reaching 59% among those ages 18 to 34 and 52% among those ages 35-44. Support among Republicans 65 and older is lower at 38%, but up from 25% in the March 5-10 period. 

“This is strong evidence that the coronavirus may be changing politics,” said Steven Kull, director of PPC and a senior research associate at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland. “Americans, especially Republicans, are becoming more supportive of permanent paid leave for people with a serious health condition or who need to care for a family member.”

The proposal considered in the survey was based on bills proposed in the U.S. House and Senate that require all employers to provide up to 12 weeks of leave to recover from a serious health condition, to care for a family member with a serious health condition or to care for newborn or newly adopted child. Workers would receive two-thirds of their wages, up to a maximum of $4,000 a month, from a federal trust fund supported by a new payroll tax. 

Survey respondents were told the payroll tax would equal 0.62% of employees’ salaries, split evenly between employers and employees—the amount that the Social Security Administration concluded would be required. The legislation calls for a slightly lower tax of 0.4%.

The survey, conducted by PPC, was released by the nonpartisan organization Voice of the People, which provided support for the survey. The sample of 3,421 registered voters was provided by Nielsen Scarborough.  

The survey was unique in that respondents were given a briefing on the details of the proposed legislation, with background on the issue, and asked to evaluate a series of strongly stated arguments for and against. All of the content was reviewed by proponents and opponents of the legislation to ensure that the briefing was accurate and balanced and that the arguments offered were the strongest ones available. 

Even those who opposed paid medical and family leave supported a requirement that employers provide 12 weeks of leave without government support through a new tax by a nearly two-to-one margin. Combined with those who favored the legislation, total support for some type of required medical and family leave reached a near-universal 87%. Among Republicans the total reached 79%; for Democrats it was 95%.  

This would effectively expand the reach of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which required some, but not all, employers to provide unpaid leave for medical and family reasons. 

Another legislative proposal that would provide tax credits to parents of newly born or adopted children—potentially enabling them to take leave—did not fare as well. The government would provide a $5,000 advance per child, which would then be effectively repaid by reducing the parents’ existing yearly child tax credit from $2,000 to $1,500 per child for 10 years. Views were evenly divided—50% in favor, 49% opposed—and did not change significantly from the March 5-10 period.  

Though the proposed legislation has Republicans sponsorship, only 39% of Republicans favored the idea (60% were opposed).  Support was higher among Democrats at 61%. 

The survey was conducted online from March 5 through 25 with a national probability-based sample of 1,352 registered voters provided by Nielsen Scarborough from its sample of respondents, who were recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households. The March 5-10 sample included 1,352 respondents with a margin of error of +/- 2.7%. The March 11-25 sample included 2,069 respondents with a margin of error of +/- 2.2%.

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