Obama State of the Union Speech Puts YWCA Legislative Agenda in Sharp Focus

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Obama State of the Union Speech Puts YWCA Legislative Agenda in Sharp Focus

By Desiree Hoffman
Director of Policy and Advocacy, YWCA USA

At this moment, as you read these words, many working mothers across the United States are anguishing over a choice they should not be forced to make in this country today: Whether she can afford to stay home to care for a sick child.

This is a non-choice – a backward, archaic reality that President Barack Obama, in his 2015 State of the Union address, recognized must be eliminated by guaranteeing every working American seven days of paid sick leave annually, one of several vital policy initiatives that the YWCA firmly supports. At the same time, there were a few other topics we wish he had touched on but we recognize that any broad policy address by the top public servant in a country as large and diverse as the United States will necessarily be a mixed bag.

In thematic focus on “middle-class economics” and a number of specific initiatives, the YWCA heard several ideas we welcome and support fully. These include:

  • The need for guaranteed paid sick days and family leave
  • The need for a higher national minimum wage
  • The need for women and men to be paid equal wages for equal work
  • The need to protect the assurance of affordable healthcare
  • The need for race equity and reform of the criminal justice system
  • The need for access by all working parents to affordable, quality childcare

In the more than 150 years since the YWCA was established, we have consistently advocated for legislation that promotes women’s empowerment and racial justice. The above legislative priorities outlined by President Obama align with YWCA policy positions and with our historic vocation and we will work with members of Congress from any party who are prepared to support them.

On the other hand, we had hoped that President Obama would more clearly address the continuing scourge of racism in America, especially as it is manifests in racial profiling by law enforcement. His reference to the unrest in Ferguson last year and to the parent who worries his child can’t walk home without being harassed – implicitly youth of color being treated unfairly by law enforcement officers – was encouraging but left us wanting more. We must pass the End Racial Profiling Act this year to begin correcting this injustice.

We were also disappointed that President Obama did not mention the dire need to close legal loopholes that allow batterers to have access to firearms. In a country where an average of 46 women are shot to death every month by their intimate partner, domestic violence-related gun homicide is a critical matter that must be addressed immediately through legislation.

The YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. We look forward to working with Democrats, Republicans and Independents in the new Congress to support legislation that aligns with our mission. In that light, President Obama’s State of the Union address this year offered some useful direction that we encourage everyone to consider as we move forward.