As our country braced for another threatened government shutdown last week, federal workers are more aware than ever that they must be prepared for swaths of time without a paycheck. As was clear last month, a staggering number of workers cannot weather a period of missed pay, let alone plan for a time when they can no longer work because of unemployment or illness. And this says nothing of the dream of a well-deserved retirement. But it’s not just government employees who live on this edge. Cringe-inducing stories of working Americans losing their homes, choosing between food and medicine, working just to cover their debt payments, going to work sick because they can’t afford the risk of being fired, and spending hours transferring from bus line to bus line to get to a minimum wage job have been part of the American experience since (and well before) the 2008 financial crisis.
Child sex trafficking is among the very few issues that can win bipartisan support in today’s political climate. But the laws resulting from this political alliance offer deeply conservative, law-and-order solutions that only minimally address the social conditions that make U.S. youth vulnerable to the sex trade.
Across parties, politicians are showing increased interest in developing policies around paid family and medical leave, especially for new parents. The latest creative example is Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s Economic Security for New Parents Act, backed by the Independent Women’s Forum, a politically conservative US non-profit advocacy organization. The bill would allow households with a new child (biological or adopted) to access Social Security benefits to cover their parental leave, in exchange for delaying receipt at retirement. The proposal has received little support from Democrats or the public, yet it is noteworthy that Republicans are offering new ideas for addressing the changing nature of and needs of modern families – for instance, the mother is the sole or primary earner in 40% of families with children under age 18 (2013 Pew report) – for paid leave after the arrival of a child. The United States is an outlier, late to the recognition that economic instability during family formation is a public problem worthy of a public response. Research shows the benefits of such paid leave for mothers, fathers, children, and employers. The dominant policy around the globe and in seven US states is publicly run social insurance, under which workers and/or employers contribute to a fund accessed by workers during their leave.
Being a mother is difficult—from childbirth to child care, women often bear the principal burden to provide basic necessities for their children. This becomes all the more challenging for poor women, who piece together their income with support from government social safety nets. Yet, one of the most basic necessities for mothers and their babies –diapers– are not covered by federal assistance programs. As these programs face spending cuts and the imposition of onerous work requirements—from the Trump Administration’s proposal to cut federal spending for Medicaid to House Republicans planning to cut SNAP benefits in the farm bill (Supplemental Assistance for Needy Families, also known as food stamps)—poor mothers must spend more money on food and housing, leaving even less available to pay for diapers.
As the Trump Administration rolls back Obama era protections against housing discrimination and proposes cuts in funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by 18.3 percent as well as elimination of community development block grant programs entirely, Congress pushes back with historically high HUD funding levels in its latest budget deal. Against this backdrop, the Gender Policy Report talked with Heading Home Hennepin’s Lisa Thornquist and Humphrey School Faculty member Maria Hanratty about the face of homelessness and how federal housing and safety net policy intersects with their work at the local level to end homelessness.
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