As Congress adjourned for a summer recess and the North Carolina General Assembly ended its short session, the work completed by each body over the summer months touched a number of AAUW public policy concerns. AAUW scored a victory for pay equity when the House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act which improves the effectiveness of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 through several new provisions including strengthening penalties for equal pay violations and providing for class action suits and punitive and compensatory damages. Passage of the Act was greatly aided by the work of AAUW, including wide distribution and national publicity of Behind the Pay Gap released by AAUW in 2007, and strong lobbying efforts such as the sign-on support letter to House members endorsed by our own AAUW NC. North Carolina’s 13 district representatives voted decisively (8 to 5) in favor of the Act.
In another AAUW victory, Congress also passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 which reauthorizes and updates existing programs and provides new ways to make college more accessible and affordable to all. The legislation provides programs that AAUW has long fought for including making Pell grants available year-round to better serve the growing number of nontraditional students – the majority of whom are women with work or family responsibilities; expanding the population of qualified individuals, particularly women and minorities, in STEM fields; and increasing funding for campus child care.
Also at the federal level, the US Department of Health and Human Services drafted proposed regulations which would broadly extend the definition of reproductive health services and allow health care providers to refuse to provide certain family planning services, including some of the most common forms of birth control. These regulations, not yet released, would affect more than 500,000 hospitals, clinics, and medical facilities that receive federal funding. AAUW opposes any attempt by government or other organizations to make any restrictions on a woman’s choice and AAUW members and supporters have been very vocal in their opposition to the proposed regulations. AAUW reported that this issue received the biggest response rate of the year through its website.
Check www.aauw.org/advocacy/issue_advocacy for more information on these issues and how to join other AAUW members in advocating for AAUW public policy positions such as those above. Join the Action Network to receive alerts about critical issues and then follow the quick and easy steps to send your message to our national leaders supporting AAUW positions as a “Two-Minute Activist.”
At the state level, during the General Assembly’s short session, legislators passed the FY 2009 budget which contains provisions of interest to AAUW members as they relate to our mission and public policy program. Among the budget highlights are the provision of increased funding for the education of children with disabilities and for the Disadvantaged Student Supplemental Fund; additional monies for child care subsidies to relieve the current waiting list; increased funding for the NC Health Choice program to provide health insurance to over 7300 additional low income children; and an increase in funds for affordable housing which will benefit low income families, many of which are headed by single females.
To prepare for the 2009 state legislative session, North Carolina Women United will sponsor Women’s Agenda Assemblies across the state to develop a legislative agenda to present to the General Assembly which convenes in January. AAUW NC is an active member of NCWU, a coalition of organizations of interest to women, and AAUW members are encouraged to participate in the Assembly held in your area. Contact your branch president for more information or see www.ncwu.org.