Which state awards the most?

Washington ...and California



Award Amount

Of course you want to know which state pays the most in benefits. I see this as a two-part answer. First, which state will pay the most for any given week. Figure 1 shows each state (with a current paid family leave program) and how much their maximum weekly benefit has increased over the years.

Clearly California pays the most per week. Or maybe I should say, they have the highest ceiling. It doesn't mean they pay the most for any specific income. For that, see each states section in the Explain PFL tab. If you have a high income then California will pay the most per week.
You may also notice that I included CPI - representing the Consumer Price Index. Inflation can't be ignored. I've plotted what $500 in 2021 would be worth each year all the way back to 2003. This helps provide some context for the increases in benefits. New Jersey tracked inflation pretty closely until they felt some PFL-envy in 2020 and cranked up the benefits!

Second, the total payout is a function of the weekly maximum payment and the number of weeks offered as a benefit. If you can claim the maximum weekly award and use the full number of weeks offered by each state you'd receive the maximum benefit. Each state's total award is stacked against each other in Figure 2. Washington currently provides the biggest payout for those that qualify for the maximum award.
Who's residents pay the most?

California
(That's not good by the way)


Which state is the best deal?

Washington

Costs and Taxes

You might be wondering who pays for those awards and benefits. People with jobs do through payroll taxes. That makes sense since Paid Family Leave is a wage replacement program for taking leave. It's not welfare. Figure 3 shows a comparison of each state over the life of their state's program.

Washington has the highest payout and a mid-range cost. It's debatable, but I think that's a pretty good deal. Washington payroll taxes started in January 2019 in anticipation of benefits being available in 2020.
The higher the income/wage, the higher the wage replacement (i.e. payout) and the higher the payroll tax. This makes sense ...but WOW! Californians pay a lot.

Although a new program, it looks like New Yorkers get a good bang for their buck. The cost of the program is low and the payout is pretty high.

Rhode Island may have the worst deal. They pay almost as much as Californians but the payout is the lowest in the pack. That stinks.

Which program is simple?

New York

Which program is a black hole?

Seriously, Rhode Island!

Complexity

None of these state programs crystal clear. It's hard to find documentation and they are goverment programs after all. I've had to dig through all of the state websites and read their pamphlets. Being easy to understand has a lot of value for someone submitting a claim - because that is the goal of the program. To make it easier for you to bond with a child or care for a sick family member. If you're sinking time into understanding legalese and can't plan correctly then the program is a failure. At least in part.

Since I had to also program a reverse-engineered version of each state's Paid Family Leave program using published documentation I figure I have some room for opinions on this topic.

If I look at the code I wrote for each state it is obvious that New York has a simple, easy to understand program despite having a ramp-up period from 2018 to 2021.

California had a relatively simple program that's become more complex in an effort to make it more progressive. Unfortunately, it's quite difficult to estimate benefits without the help of their 1990s-era-looking website calculator.

Washington's plan seems to be based on a simple idea but gets a little complicated for the average person by referencing the State Average Working Wage and the FICA payroll tax limit for program "premiums" - sugar coating the tax pill.

Rhode Island's program tries so hard to make everyone on the planet eligible for benefits. Maybe those people would apply if they could understand the eligibility requirements the state has defined. It's like they've borrowed a piece from each of the other state programs and instead of making a choice they just threw them all together into the bureaucratic spaghetti-bowl.

Which state is best for you?

Your state! You're not moving for PFL - nor are you eligible if you do.



Summary

Having taken a look at these state programs I'm most impressed with New York's new program. It's relatively simple, the cost/taxes are relatively low, the awards are relatively generous, and their website looks like it was made in the current century.

I am mystified by the cost of the California program.

Rhode Island is in rough shape. High cost/taxes, low awards, complex eligibility, it leaves a lot of room for improvement.