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U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) speaks as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) looks on during a news conference about the "Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act," or FAMILY Act on February 12, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Voters 'Overwhelmingly Support' Robust Paid Family Leave Proposal While Rejecting 'Half-Measures,' New Study Finds

"At at some point, everyone has to take care of a loved one, get care for themselves, or both—and we need time away from our jobs to do so."

Julia Conley

New polling from the progressive think tank Data for Progress finds that most Americans support the most far-reaching paid family leave plan currently being proposed in Congress and reject alternative half-measures from conservative Democrats and Republicans.

Working with YouGov, the group polled nearly 1,300 voters about three family leave proposals including the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act; a number of Republican proposals in which workers would be forced to draw from their Social Security benefits to fund their leave to give birth or adopt a child, take care of an ailing relative, or recover from an illness; and a program in which workers would get a $5,000 payment when they need to take parental leave in exchange for a reduced Child Tax Credit (CTC).

Currently, the United States offers only the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which guarantees only unpaid leave to workers and applies only to 59 percent of the workforce.

"When the 2020 general election begins, the Democratic nominee will certainly need to distinguish herself or himself from Trump's limited, harmful plan in order to help voters see distinctions and credential themselves as a true champion for women and working families."
—Data for Progress
Two-thirds of respondents said they supported the FAMILY Act, which offers 12 weeks of leave paid at two-thirds a worker's regular wage. The FAMILY Act is the most robust proposal but is still less generous than the paid leave that is offered to workers in many other wealthy countries.

Only 42 percent of those polled supported the plan involving the $5,000 payment and reduced tax credit, which are part of a plan Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) pushed this past summer.

"Critically," Data for Progress wrote in its report, "the Cassidy–Sinema concept is not paid leave. It is a loan, and it fails to recognize that families across the country rely on the full value of the newly expanded CTC to help offset the high costs of child care—which exceed the costs of college in many states—and the expenses associated with raising a child."

Less than a third of respondents supported plans to compel Americans to use their Social Security benefits toward family or medical leave, which the Urban Institute analyzed and found would force workers to work an additional 20 to 25 weeks before retiring, all because they welcomed a new child. The plans would not apply to workers who need to take time off to care for a relative or because they become ill themselves.

Such proposals have been pushed in recent years by President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and other Republicans.

"These proposals have been roundly criticized," Data for Progress wrote. "Progressives argue that parental leave alone isn't enough to meet the needs of the 75 percent of workers who use FMLA for serious personal and family health needs; that women and the same people who do not have paid leave now—younger people, poorer people, people of color—also do not have other sources of funds at retirement; and that reimagining Social Security benefits as these proposals suggest would help pave a path toward Social Security privatization."

All members of Congress who are running in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary have cosponsored the FAMILY Act, which would be funded through payroll taxes of less than half a percent of a worker's wages, for an average of $2 per week.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is the only major candidate who has not endorsed the proposal—a failure that could become a liability if he is the Democratic nominee and faces President Donald Trump, whose paid family leave plan includes only six weeks of paid leave for new parents, administered through state unemployment programs.

The FAMILY Act, Data for Progress said, "is the family leave proposal currently introduced in Congress that is most reflective of what working people need and is based on successful state programs, and sets the standard for the 2020 Presidential field."

"When the 2020 general election begins, the Democratic nominee will certainly need to distinguish herself or himself from Trump's limited, harmful plan in order to help voters see distinctions and credential themselves as a true champion for women and working families," the group added.

Data for Progress co-founder Sean McElwee tweeted that its poll shows overwhelming support among voters for the most comprehensive plan being debated in Congress—"not half-measures."

Voters' support for the FAMILY Act is mirrored by the broad backing of other progressive proposals like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

Gillibrand and other progressives also drew attention to Data for Progress's poll on social media.

The FAMILY Act, the senator said, represents "the cost of a cup of coffee a week for every person, every employer to actually have national paid leave. It means that no matter where you work, big company, small company, part time, full time you're constantly buying into your paid leave."

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