September Update

The Family & Medical Leave Act turns 20. On August 5, we celebrated another national milestone. Twenty years ago on that day, and for the first time ever, parents, spouses, sons and daughters were guaranteed access to unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In the last two decades, FMLA has been used more than 100 million times, and has changed the culture of our nation and its workplaces, working to ensure that people can meet the demands of both job and family. The FMLA was always intended as a first step. But today, 40 percent of the workforce still isn’t covered by its protections and many cannot afford to take the unpaid leave it guarantees. Too many people risk losing essential income — or even their jobs — when they need to care for their health or the health of their families. Women, who so often are essential breadwinners and caregivers for their families, are hit especially hard. Tell your reps in Congress that it’s time for a national paid leave program.

House of Representatives Passes Student Loan Bill on July 31. The Smarter Solutions for Students Act (H.R. 1911) passed with bipartisan support and a vote of 392-31, and is now headed to the President’s desk. The act keeps current student loan interest rates low at the expense of a future increase. However, AAUW opposed HR 1911, citing it as shortsighted, and pledges to work with Congress to improve terms for students before rates increase.

House Democrats Launch Women’s Economic Agenda.  In early July, following a meeting with AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman & VP of Government Relations Lisa Maatz, CAE, and leaders of several other women’s groups, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other House Democrats launched a new Women’s Economic Agenda outlining their policy priorities for improving women’s lives. The agenda’s approach is three-pronged: improving wages and pay, expanding paid leave and other work/life balance policies, and increasing access to and affordability of child care. Check out AAUW’s Facebook page for pictures from that launch event.

The US Supreme Court was abuzz in June. The Court issued several decisions concerning AAUW priority issues. Here is a recap of the major ones:

  • Fisher v. The University of Texas: The Court upheld use of race and ethnicity as one of many considerations appropriate in school admissions, but only when that policy is carefully crafted and narrowly tailored to meet the school’s interest in a diverse student body. The SC returned the case to the lower court and ordered the judges to re-hear the case using a stricter standard. Nationwide, the decision has no overall effect on affirmative action policies.
  • U.S. v. Windsor: The Court declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — which only recognizes spouses of the opposite sex — unconstitutional. The ruling has already positively impactedavailability of medical and housing benefits to same-sex couples in the military, and is expected to have broader implications for all couples and their families down the road.
  • Hollingsworth v. Perry: In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that petitioners seeking to uphold California’s ban on same-sex marriage did not have standing to appeal the case. The court’s decision means that the lower court’s decision stands, and same-sex marriage will again be legal in California. How this ruling will apply to other states with similar bans is still unclear.
  • Vance v. Ball State University: The Court redefined the meaning of “supervisor” in a way that frees employers from responsibility for sexual harassment committed by employees who do not have the power to hire or fire.
  • Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder: The Court struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that enables the federal government to monitor states with a history of voter discrimination more closely than other states.

Learn more about pending legislation, add your voice to the conversation, and help shape the current public policy decisions that impact women and their families. Visit the Two-Minute Activist tool.