Emergency Paid Family Leave Should Move Forward to Relieve Working Families in Economics and Finance, Paid Parental Leave

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on working parents with children at home. Of the parents who have left their jobs last year, nearly 20% cited caregiving responsibilities resulting from childcare and school closures. Among working parents on unemployment insurance who left their jobs voluntarily, 52% left due to caregiving responsibilities.  

It is a terrifying time to give birth or adopt a baby, but little has been done to help new parents. New parents were left out of the emergency paid family leave program and they didn’t receive the dependent portion of stimulus checks as the IRS calculated who qualified based on 2018 and 2019 tax filing data and the babies were born in 2020 (however, with some research and extra paperwork, those new parents can still file to receive up to $1,100).

Among women with children under 2 years old, 42% have left their jobs during the pandemic. Of parents on unemployment insurance who not looking to return to work, 59% cited caregiving responsibilities as the primary barrier to employment. Meanwhile, many more parents, including new mothers and fathers, have had to manage work and caregiving to a degree not seen in many decades, if ever. 

The next economic relief package needs to include interventions, such as paid family leave, to help working families balance their caregiving responsibilities while staying connected to work. 

Early pandemic relief packages passed by Congress recognized the struggle American families were facing—as an indisputable result of the pandemic—and wisely included paid leave benefits to help alleviate it. The results indicate that the measures have had some early success. Last spring, 28% of small businesses reported they were using the paid leave tax credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), while 44% of small business executives said the paid sick and paid family leave provisions have helped their business. 

Emergency sick leave that came with FFCRA has also been found to reduce the spread of COVID-19. One study found that states experienced 400 fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19 cases per day, per state. Furthermore, the benefit of paid sick leave made people far more willing to get tested, knowing they could afford to quarantine if they tested positive. 

These far-reaching benefits show that as the virus continues to wreak havoc on our economy and our families, paid sick and family leave is a critical tool. As Congress and the administration consider legislation to address the pandemic-induced plight of working families, they should: 

  • Extend the emergency paid leave program through September;
  • Reinstate the requirement that employers who get dollar for dollar tax credits to cover the cost must provide paid sick and family leave; and
  • Expand this leave to include new parents and employees of businesses with over 500 employees.

Paid family leave has numerous personal, familial, and societal benefits, including enhanced public health, increased workforce productivity and participation, and reduced sick days. These are benefits our families, our businesses, and our country desperately need right now. 

Congress can provide these benefits for workers as we continue to tackle the pandemic. That said, the emergency program is not perfect and is not a permanent solution. Paid family leave is a concept that enjoys broad support – both in the public and across the political spectrum. As we emerge from the shadow of the virus this year, Congress should make permanent paid family leave a priority and design, pass, and implement a program to meet the needs of working families.