by Melissa Gilliam, YWCA USA Policy & Advocacy Assistant
As we close out Women’s History Month, women and marginalized communities continue to face countless challenges that started before the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges include inadequate access to affordable childcare, gender-based violence, and racial and gender wage gaps, which were exacerbated by the hardships brought on by the pandemic.
This is why YWCA is excited about how the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) addresses women’s needs in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. The $1.9 trillion package provides much-needed relief to women, families, and communities hardest hit by the pandemic. ARPA alleviates financial burdens for women and families in key areas regarding the workplace, housing, and healthcare, outlined in our 2020 Shecession Report. In addition, ARPA provides essential resources for nonprofits like YWCA that provide child care, housing, gender-based violence and other life-changing services.
Women Endure an Economic Crisis
As heads of household and primary caretakers, many women struggled financially to stay afloat with very little support prior to the pandemic. Their financial hardships have become even heavier as they have lost jobs. Women, particularly women of color, have faced the economic brunt of this crisis with a net of 5.4 million jobs lost since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, layoffs from low-wage jobs in women-dominated service and hospitality industries aren’t likely to come back, which means women will continue to struggle even after the U.S. economy starts to recover. This is why direct payments of $1,400 per person, Child Tax Credits of $2,000 to over $3,000, and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $300 are big ‘wins’ for women and set the groundwork for the other benefits of this comprehensive legislation.
Women and Families Need Housing Assistance
Low-income households found it difficult to pay rent before the pandemic and now over 5 million unemployed renters face the threat of eviction as they have fallen behind in making rent payments, with more than half a million people already experiencing homelessness. To make matters worse, renters of color are disproportionately impacted by housing emergencies. In efforts to reduce housing insecurity, ARPA provides $21.55 billion for emergency rental assistance, $5 billion towards Housing Choice Vouchers, $100M in rural rental assistance, and $39M to help rural, and low-income homeowners. ARPA’s rental and housing assistance is particularly good for women because of the economic support the benefits contribute, especially with so many women experiencing job loss.
The Health and Well-being of Women is Priceless
Paid sick and medical leave is imperative for women, who are often the primary caretakers for children and aging parents. As of November 2020, 4.1 million adults in the United States were not working because they were sick with coronavirus symptoms and 2.6 million because they were caring for an ill or older loved one. Providing paid sick and medical leave helps to solidify the economic security of women—especially women of color—and families. By extending paid leave tax credits that are available to employers, the ARPA took an important step toward incentivizing employers to provide paid leave for employees experiencing COVID-19 or providing care to a family member during the pandemic. However, the ARPA did not reinstate the paid leave mandate that expired at the end of 2020, a critical step that women still need Congress to take to ensure they can meet both their breadwinning and caregiving responsibilities during the COVID-19 crisis.
Access to healthcare is also gravely important, as in some cases it can mean life or death. By eliminating or vastly reducing premium costs for many people with low or moderate incomes who enroll in plans through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the ARPA expands health care coverage to 1.3 million people who would otherwise be uninsured. The ARPA also covers employees who have lost their employee health coverage due to a cutback in hours or involuntary termination through September 30, 2021. ARPA provides financial incentives for the 14 states that did not implement the ACAs Medicaid expansion to now provide critical coverage to nearly 4 million uninsured people. By expanding health coverage under the ACA, the ARPA helps to ensure that more women will be able to access mammograms, diabetes monitoring, and other routine health screenings that detect illness earlier and improve their overall health. This is what makes ARPA’s health care provisions critical for women’s overall wellness and health.
Supporting Organizations that Support Women
Nonprofits like YWCA serve women and families when and where they need it most. YWCAs provide affordable childcare, housing, safety from domestic and sexual violence, financial literacy training, and more for over 2 million women, girls, and family members each year. But as the economic toll of COVID-19 has mounted, we’ve struggled to secure adequate resources and funding to meet the full breadth of need in our communities. At a time when YWCA’s services were needed most, many struggled and worked tirelessly to keep their doors open, pay staff, and provide personal protective equipment.
Through the incredible activism of YWCA and the nonprofit sector, nonprofits too were given relief to help keep the doors open and programs running. An additional $7.25 billion in funding for the Paycheck Protection Program will help nonprofits and small businesses pay their staff. Emergency grant funding will help keep gender-based violence, child abuse, child care, early learning, and after-school and summer programs operating in the months ahead. This means that ARPA is helping YWCAs keep their doors open to provide security, shelter, and support to women and children when they need it most.
We Must Keep Building and Moving Forward
As we celebrate the passage of the American Rescue Plan, we recognize this is not only a moment of relief, but a sign of hope. Even with this important legislation in place, we still need to continue advancing equitable policies that prioritize women’s most basic needs and address the disparities within the workplace, healthcare, housing, childcare, and education systems. Much remains to be done, but we have hope that our nation and our leaders will build upon this progress and keep moving forward to create the world that YWCA envisions—a world where women and girls can thrive.