National Partnership for Women & Families

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From the desk of ... Debra L. Ness

Congress Must Heed the President's Historic Call for Paid Leave, Fair Pay and a Stronger Health Care System

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.

President Obama's State of the Union address was a compelling call for a nation that is more family friendly and fair, with a health care system that provides quality care and coverage people can rely on. He asked lawmakers to advance the most fundamental of American values: equal opportunity, access to quality jobs, a fair chance for all who are willing to work hard and measures that will strengthen the middle class and protect the safety net. Congress should end the partisanship and gridlock, and heed his call by advancing the agenda Americans need.

As President Obama said, it's time to leave Mad Men attitudes and policies behind and adopt programs that allow people to hold jobs and care for their families. We need the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, to guarantee workers paid leave to care for babies, recover from serious illness or care for seriously ill family members. We need the Healthy Families Act so workers throughout the country, no matter where they live, can earn the paid sick days they need to recover from illness and care for sick children and family members.

We need Congress to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act, to finally reduce the punitive wage gap President Obama discussed so eloquently. And we need the president to lead by example by issuing an executive order that allows employees of companies that contract with the federal government to discuss their pay without retaliation. Too many hardworking women, and especially women of color, are victims of wage discrimination that causes terrible harm to their lives and families, and makes it much more difficult for them to get ahead.

And we need higher minimum and sub-minimum wage rates, unemployment benefits we can count on and a real chance at retirement security. Along with fairer and more family friendly workplaces policies, these measures will truly advance economic equality and opportunity in this country. So will fixing a health care system that has caused financial devastation for too many hardworking families.

That is why Congress also needs to strengthen, not attack, health care reform -- the greatest advance for women's health in a generation. It is past time to leave behind gender discrimination in pricing, and the refusals to cover those with pre-existing conditions. Instead, we need to secure the preventive care, contraceptive coverage and consumer protections the Affordable Care Act has ushered in.

This State of the Union was a rousing, resonant speech that spoke to the issues Americans care most about. It should be the start of a new era in which lawmakers from both sides of the aisle work together to make all our lives better. As the president said: "This year, let's all come together, Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main Street, to give every woman the opportunity she deserves."

Indeed, that is what the country needs.


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