It seems that women have been the center of many policy debates this year, both nationally and locally. We’ve been keeping an eye on important legislation affecting women and their families in 2013 and have put together a list of the top bills, policies and legislation of the year, plus a few to keep tabs on in 2014:
1. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cuts:
In November of this year, automatic cuts to SNAP took effect as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) expired. The cuts amounted to $29 a month for a family of three and reduced SNAP benefits to an average of less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014.
Keep an eye on this in 2014: Additional cuts could be coming in 2014. Cuts to SNAP are included in the Farm Bill, but the number varies depending on version. Though the conference committee tasked with reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill won’t have an agreement by the end of 2013, it is likely the bill will pass in some form in early 2014.
2. Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013:
This bill was signed into law in March and expands protections for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. Among other things, it helps create a national prevention hotline, funds shelters, facilitates the prosecution of perpetrators, provides a temporary visa and pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants who are the victims of domestic abuse and greatly expands the housing rights of domestic violence survivors.
3. Raising the minimum wage to $11.50/hr in DC, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County:
Just in time to make our 2013 roundup, these three local governments all passed bills to raise the minimum wage in their respective jurisdictions. This is a huge step and very important for our region, but as the Foundation’s President Nicky Goren wrote in her Huffington Post article earlier this month, this increase is just a start. Still, there has been a lot of activism around raising the minimum wage lately, including President Obama supporting a bill to raise the federal minimum wage. We’ll be watching this issue in the new year.
4. Long-term unemployment insurance runs out December 28:
Recent statistics show that women are roughly 45% of the long-term unemployed. Right now, the length of time a person can collect unemployment benefits varies significantly by state, but it can be as long as 73 weeks in some places. Come December 28, 2013, 26 weeks will be the maximum length a person will be able to collect the benefit. At that time, anyone who has been on unemployment longer than 26 weeks will be completely cut-off (that number will likely be 1.3 million Americans). The Urban Institute has created a great resource for learning more about this important issue, here.
5. Sequester and Shutdown:
2013 saw both The Sequester and The Shutdown, with the Washington region being heavily impacted by both. The Sequester caused cuts to social services, furloughs for government workers, and serious hits to the Head Start program. The Shutdown nearly crippled the Head Start program altogether in November and caused many local non-profits and families to struggle as they went without funding and paychecks for 16 days. Sequestration has been devastating for housing assistance programs, causing significant shortfalls in housing vouchers for low-income families.
6. Affordable Care Act came online:
Though the rollout has had its issues, the Affordable Care Act officially came online this past year, and the implications for women and their families are huge. Already, almost 1.5 million people have enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. All the women and children included in that figure will get free preventative care such as mammograms, screenings for cervical cancer and other services, along with coverage for other medical issues at reasonable prices and no co-pay for most birth control.
To watch in the coming year:
1. Immigration Reform:
This bill didn’t make it through Congress this year, but the implications of comprehensive immigration reform for families could be huge. It is estimated that there are between 11 and 20 million undocumented immigrants in America, many of them living away from families for years or decades. Many undocumented immigrants forgo public assistance they could legally obtain for fear they will be deported. There is a lot of momentum for this bill, and we’ll be watching what happens in 2014.
2. Strong Start for America’s Children Act:
On November 13, the Strong Start for America’s Children Act was introduced in the House and Senate. This legislation would provide universal access to high-quality pre-kindergarten for low-income children and expand child care for infants and toddlers through a federal-state partnership. This bill has bipartisan support and would be a huge early care and education win if it passes. A summary on the bill from the National Women’s Law Center is here.
3. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (the FAMILY Act):
This bill was introduced in December of this year. While the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (widely known as FMLA) currently requires employers to provide leave for qualified medical and family reasons, it only requires unpaid leave. The new bill that has been introduced would provide federal family leave insurance that would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income for qualified leave. This is certainly something that could be a huge boost for women and their families, and we’ll be watching it closely in 2014.
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