Abstract: What Is the Landscape of Paid Family and Medical Leave and Safety Net Programs for Low-Income Families in Paid Family and Medical Leave States? (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

What Is the Landscape of Paid Family and Medical Leave and Safety Net Programs for Low-Income Families in Paid Family and Medical Leave States?

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Emily Ellis, MSW, Graduate Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Marci Ybarra, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose:

Scholars and policymakers have long heralded the benefits of state-sponsored Paid Family and Medical Leave as a buffer during interruptions from work for caregiving, especially for low-income workers. Indeed, since California’s PFML program began in 2004, five other states and the District of Columbia have enacted PFML policies and programs. Moreover, in the past year federal proposals have been put forth by both Republicans and Democrats suggesting robust bi-partisan support for these programs.

There is good reason to support PFML programs; prior research has found that PFML is associated with better labor force attachment and health outcomes, particularly for low-income families and women. Yet, concerns remain that PFML on its own may not be enough for low-income families as they are less likely to have job protection and more likely to experience economic difficulties, even when PFML is available. Therefore, there is interest in the role of safety net programs as a support in PFML states. Despite the importance of safety net programs for lower income families, we have little information on the generosity of such programs in PFML states. Understanding the scope of PFML and safety net provisions in current PFML states will provide insight into the landscape of supports among the most economically vulnerable.

This descriptive study will advance knowledge in three ways: 1. Illuminate variations in social insurance and means-tested provisions in PFML states, 2. Bring attention to the scope and depth of support available to families in PFML states, allowing for a reconsideration of the adequacy of these supports, and 3. Allow other states considering similar PFML programs a framework for assessing these provisions. 


We consider cash welfare, Medicaid, child care subsidies, Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waivers, and state Child and Dependent Care Tax Credits (CDCTC). Data are drawn from the Welfare Rules Database, the federal government, the CCDF Policies Database, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and from Tax Credits for Workers and Their Families (TCWF), respectively. We determined multiple generosity measures for PFML and each safety net program based on eligibility, benefits, duration, and waitlists. We then created a generosity index across selected programs to describe of the scope and depth of support available for caregiving.


Results suggest that there are substantive differences across PFML states in state and means-tested support available to low-income families during caregiving leaves. For instance, in 2018 California and New Jersey had similar wage replacement rates for their PFML programs (between 60% and 70%, and 66%, respectively. However, California has a much more generous TANF program, $714 per month, compared to New Jersey, $424 per month, and California allows a higher ceiling than New Jersey for child care subsidy eligibility. Overall, the similarities in PFML provisions mask important differences in safety net support that low-income families may also rely on during caregiving leaves.

Conclusion and Implications:

These findings call attention to the need to consider the landscape of state-sponsored PFML and safety net provisions and the need for research that accounts for these variations.