At The Women’s Foundation, we pay close attention to policies that affect women and their families throughout the year. Here are five that we’ve kept tabs on in 2012.
5. The Paycheck Fairness Act. In June, the Senate failed to move forward with legislation that would have helped ensure equal pay for both genders. The Paycheck Fairness Act would have required employers to demonstrate that gender does not play a role in salary differences between men and women performing the same work. The Senate fell eight votes short of advancing the bill, but – due to some political maneuvering – didn’t totally kill it. According to the Census Bureau, women’s median annual earnings are about 78 percent that of men’s. The gap is even greater for women of color.
4. 2012 Farm Bill. Food insecurity disproportionately impacts low-income women and children, who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. SNAP is part of the Farm Bill, which was up for renewal this year (it has to be renewed every five years). The bill expired in September and Congress was unable to pass a new version before the House adjourned last week. The future of the bill could be impacted before the end of the year by fiscal cliff negotiations or retroactive extensions. The biggest points of disagreement in the bill are farm subsidies and SNAP benefits. There are currently 47 million people enrolled in the food stamps program.
3. The 2012 Election. While the election itself is not a policy, the record number of women elected to Congress in 2012 will likely have a significant impact on future policy. In spite of the notable increase, women still only make up 17 percent of Congress – we have a long way to go. Higher political representation for women at the national, state and local levels increases the likelihood that laws and policies will reflect the needs and interests of women and children.
2. Affordable Care Act. In June, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, which will be an important tool in improving the health and economic security of low-income women and their children. Under the ACA, women will pay lower healthcare costs and can receive preventative care without co-pays. Medicaid coverage will also be expanded to cover more families who live above the poverty line but who are still economically insecure.
1. Resolving the “Fiscal Cliff.” This is still a work-in-progress… we hope. If there’s no compromise, experts say that the hundreds-of-billions-of-dollars in tax increases and spending cuts that will take place on January 1st will likely push the country into a recession. The impact on low-income women and children would be disproportionate and particularly devastating. The services and policies that could be affected include: the Earned Income Tax Credit, the child tax credit, Head Start and other child care programs, nutrition assistance and housing assistance. As negotiations continue, the President and Congress need to work together to keep the country from going over the cliff – and not at the expense of our most economically vulnerable families.