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The Needs Of American Women And The 111th Congress' Response To Those Needs

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.


Ms. FUDGE. Thank you.

Madam Speaker, the CBC is composed of 42 members, including 4 committee Chairs, 15 subcommittee Chairs, and the majority whip. Our members promote the public welfare through legislation designed to meet the needs of millions of neglected citizens. CBC members are tireless advocates who work diligently to be the conscience of the Congress. We stand firm as the voice of the people and provide dedicated, focused service to our constituents.

Madam Speaker, we are proud to anchor this hour to discuss Congress' responsiveness to an important constituency group, American women. Let's first understand the current role of women in the legislative process.

Since 1917, when Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman to serve in Congress, a total of 260 women have served as U.S. Representatives or Senators. Currently, more women now serve in Congress than at any time in the Nation's history. In this year's Congress, there are 17 women serving in the United States Senate and 74 women serving in the United States House of Representatives. Of those Congresswomen currently serving in Congress, 14 are members of the CBC.

Since the first Congresswoman of color, Representative Patsy Mink of Hawaii, won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964, a total of 39 women of color have served in the U.S. Congress. Roughly three quarters--or 30--of these women were elected after 1990, and a total of 38 have served in the House of Representatives, where Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois is the only woman of color to serve in the U.S. Senate, from 1993 to 1999. The first African American woman to serve in Congress was Shirley Chisholm of New York who won election in 1968. Twenty-five African American women have followed her.

There are some States who have never elected a woman to Congress. They are Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi, and Vermont. I look forward to having women from those States join us at some point, Madam Speaker.

There are a historic number of women currently serving in Congress, including the first woman Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who was elected Speaker in 2007. The 111th Congress understands that our Nation's laws must include and respond to all of our citizens, including women.

Women in the Workforce. We addressed that when we looked at Lilly Ledbetter. Congress began this year addressing gender-based pay discrimination. In January, Congress swiftly and decisively passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Just days later, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law and restored an employee's right to challenge unlawful pay discrimination.

The Paycheck Fairness Act passed by the House on January 9 takes further steps to ensure that gender-based pay discrimination does not occur in the first place by closing the loopholes that have allowed employers to avoid responsibility for discriminatory pay. A comprehensive update to the 46-year-old Equal Pay Act, The Paycheck Fairness Act puts gender-based discrimination sanctions on equal footing with other forms of wage discrimination, such as race, disability, or age. It creates a new grant program to help strengthen the salary negotiation skills of girls and women. And it creates strong incentives for employers to equally compensate workers while strengthening correlating Federal enforcement efforts.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law. Progress has been slow during the 46 years since passage of the act. After four decades, American women continue to be unfairly compensated for their work. According to the National Organization for Women, when the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, women working full time and year round earned an average of 59 cents for every dollar earned by men; in 2007, women made 78 cents for every dollar earned by men; today, the gap has narrowed by less than a half a cent a year.

The impact of income disparity extends far beyond the individual woman. As such, equal pay is not just a women's issue, it is a family issue.

The current wage gap hurts everyone. It lowers family income for essentials such as groceries, doctor's visits, and child care. When women earn more, families benefit. Closing the wage gap is an integral part of strengthening American families and providing hope for a better future.

I stand in support of equal pay for all. I look forward to the day when all women receive equal pay for equal work.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act recognized the need to get our people back to work, and that includes women. During the current recession, from December 2007 until September 2009, roughly 2 million women lost their jobs, according to employers across this Nation. As of September, women represented 49.9 percent of all workers, excluding those in the Armed Forces and farmworkers.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contains powerful provisions to retrain workers. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has made nearly $4 billion in new funding available through the Department of Labor for job training programs. Just under $3 billion of this funding has already gone out to States through formula grants under the Workforce Investment Act.

Speaking with Lori Atkins, the deputy director of workforce training in Cuyahoga County where I live, I learned the county will receive $14 million for training. The money will help dislocated adult and youth workers, including America's women. Another $750 million will be allocated through competitive grants to train people in green jobs and health care and other high-demand sectors. While women are underrepresented in many of these high-demand sectors, we can be retrained to compete for these jobs.

I am proud of community organizations that retrain women in nontraditional industries. Hard Hatted Women is one such organization. The nonprofit, located in Cleveland, Ohio, is launching a new program called Tradeswomen TOOLS. This program will link women to opportunities in high-wage, nontraditional fields using the expertise of women working on diversity initiatives in these fields. The goal is to link unemployed women with employment opportunities within the building trades in heavy highway construction, the energy and utility sector, the green building sector, and advanced manufacturing. Tradeswomen TOOLS provides orientation to nontraditional careers, industry specific workshops and presentations, individualized career counseling, one stop center for referrals, and math and physical fitness for the trades. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and organizations like Hard Hatted Women provide women the resources to get back to work.

Now I would like to talk a bit about women and education challenges. Madam Speaker, we must ensure that our girls graduate from high school in order to financially provide for themselves. According to the National Women's Law Center, an estimated 25 percent of female students do not graduate with a high school diploma in 4 years. Girls of color are particularly affected by this trend. Across the Nation, in 2004, 37 percent of Hispanics, 40 percent of black, and 50 percent of American Indian or Alaskan Native female students failed to graduate in 4 years.

While there are many factors that contribute to students dropping out of school, some are unique to girls. Those factors are: first, pregnancy and parenting responsibilities. According to a survey conducted by the Gates Foundation, 33 percent of female dropouts reported that becoming a parent played a major role in their decision to leave school. Specifically, students cited the lack of affordable day care for their children. While some high schools provide subsidized care for student parents, many do not. The school itself then becomes a determinant in whether the student remains in school.

In many schools where a certain number of absences result in students forfeiting a class, teen mothers need child-related absences not counted toward their total number of absences, and most could benefit from counseling in time management, parenting skills, and referrals to services for their children.

Poor attendance rates influenced by a high occurrence of sexual harassment by peers and educators is another reason why young women drop out of school. During the same Gates Foundation survey, 83 percent of girls were victims of sexual harassment in school. Suffering abuse at the hands of peers, teachers, and other school administrators, these girls reported that the abuse caused them not to want to attend school to avoid the teacher responsible for the harassment, to stop participating in the classroom, and to be distracted from their studies.

Unfortunately, when we fail to create a safe space in our schools, we undermine the success of all students, especially girls, their future families, and our Nation. According to the study ``When Girls Don't Graduate, We All Fail: A Call to Improve High School Graduation Rates for Girls,'' female dropouts earn significantly lower wages than male dropouts, are at a greater risk of unemployment, and are more likely to rely on public support programs. Female high school dropouts earn only about 63 cents for every $1 earned by male high school dropouts. Measured against the Federal poverty line, women without high school diplomas earn an average salary about 7 percent below the family poverty line for a family of three, $15,520 versus $16,600. Women with high school diplomas earn an average salary about 32 percent above the Federal poverty line, or $21,936 to $16,600.

Female dropouts struggle with worse health conditions and less access to health coverage to address their needs than girls who graduate from high school.

Women under the Affordable Health Care of America Act are among those who stand to gain the most from health insurance reform. Madam Speaker, we pay more, we get less, and some of the ways we are treated by insurance companies is just criminal.

Recently, I met Mrs. Jodie Miller of Maryland, a mother who conceived triplets through in vitro fertilization. Mrs. and Mr. Miller were later denied health coverage because their insurance company declared that they had preexisting conditions. She was denied because of her infertility. The insurance company denied Mr. Miller coverage due to what they deemed ``spousal infertility.'' America's Affordable Health Care Act will outlaw such discrimination based on preexisting conditions.

The Affordable Health Care for America Act would revolutionize health care for women, ending the discrimination we face under our current system. More than 14 million American women who have purchased health insurance in the private market last year paid up to 48 percent more in premium costs than men. Insurance companies routinely practice what they call gender rating, and that permits them to charge men and women different premiums for the very same coverage. The Affordable Health Care for America Act would make gender rating illegal. Never again will insurance companies be able to deny women coverage for C-sections because we are pregnant or because we are victims of domestic violence. Never again, Madam Speaker, will insurance companies be able to deny us coverage just for being women.

The House's health reform proposal would make health care affordable for all of America's women and protect us

from high and potentially unimaginable out-of-pocket health care costs. We must and will improve health care for not only women, but for all Americans.

I want to talk about women of color and disproportionately being targeted for high-cost mortgages.

According to a report for the National Council of Negro Women researched by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, African American and Latino women continue to receive disparate treatment in the mortgage lending process. The report, ``Assessing the Double Burden: Examining Racial and Gender Disparities in Mortgage Lending,'' demonstrates that minorities continue to be much more likely to receive high-cost home mortgage loans than their white counterparts. In many instances, disparities by race widened as income levels increased, indicating that discrimination remains a reality in home mortgage lending, as reports by the Federal Reserve and others have documented.

The foreclosure epidemic is, in part, rooted in the targeting of communities of color for high-cost loans. The report finds that minorities were first to experience disproportionately high rates of foreclosure. As the foreclosure crisis continued to spread to suburban areas, the study suggests that middle- and upper-income minorities will continue to experience a disproportionate impact, which is especially pronounced for African American women.

Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever of the National Council of Negro Women commented that, ``Given the importance of homeownership to families and entire communities, it becomes clear that we simply cannot rest until every person, regardless of race or gender, is treated fairly at every stage of the mortgage lending process.''

The report examined data collected under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act for the year 2007, which is the latest year for which data is publicly available, for 100 of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. Among the findings, middle- and upper-income African American females were at least twice as likely to receive high-cost loans as middle- and upper-income white females in more than 84 percent of the metropolitan areas examined.

Low- and moderate-income African American females were at least twice as likely to receive high-cost loans as low- and moderate-income white females in 70 percent of the metropolitan areas examined.

Middle- and upper-income Hispanic females were at least twice as likely to receive high-cost loans as middle- and upper-income white females in almost 62 percent of the metropolitan areas examined, and low- and moderate-income Hispanic females were at least twice as likely as low- and moderate-income white females to receive high-cost loans in 32 percent of the metropolitan areas examined.

The foreclosure crisis has definitely affected my congressional district. The Center for Responsible Lending projected that more than 5,500 foreclosures will occur in my district in 2009, and more than 18,500 foreclosures will occur over the next 4 years.

The Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act is to respond to the foreclosure crisis. In May, the House of Representatives passed the Predatory Mortgage Lending Practices Reduction Act of 2009. If the act passes the Senate, it will strengthen restrictions on compensation paid to mortgage lenders and brokers.

Today, some lenders deceptively pay brokers extra fees for loans if they write loans at a higher interest rate, even when lower rates are available to borrowers. The rates are unreasonable, and borrowers are often subsequently forced into foreclosure. Such arrangements are an indefensible conflict of interest and must be stopped.

A key element of the act prohibits lenders from underwriting unreasonable loans and prohibits practices that increase the risk of foreclosure.

The act supports lenders making 30-year, fixed rate, fully documented loans rather than the record number of unstable loans marketed today. It also provides greater protections for renters of foreclosed properties, like requiring a mandatory 90-day notice to vacate instead of the arbitrary practices currently being used.

The Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act is crucial in curbing the predatory practices of the past. Mortgage lending reform is a vital piece of the congressional effort to prevent future financial disasters. Congress cannot, and will not, ignore the fact that lax regulation of this industry has left far too many consumers unprotected. I urge the Senate to pass this measure soon.

In response to the predatory practices of some mortgage brokers and agents, I introduced the Predatory Mortgage Lending Practices Reduction Act of 2009, H.R. 2108. The act is designed to assure consumers that mortgage brokers or agents are thoroughly trained and accountable for predatory practices. It does this by altering the law in three ways.

First, the act requires that brokers and agents issuing subprime loans undertake a rigorous certification program. Second, the legislation streamlines the process for filing complaints against unethical brokers and agents. And, finally, the act creates civil penalties for violations of Federal predatory lending laws.

Madam Speaker, there are honest and decent mortgage brokers and agents in this industry. Then there are a relatively few number of unscrupulous individuals who earn their commission through deception. The Predatory Mortgage Lending Practices Reduction Act of 2009 would help protect consumers from the latter class of lenders by ensuring that all related personnel are properly trained and held accountable.

Madam Speaker, further, I, on a regular basis, host housing clinics within my district. I do this in order to educate women about predatory lending, about housing scams and their rights under foreclosure.

In conclusion, Madam Speaker, I would quote from Susan B. Anthony who said it was ``we the people,'' not we the white male citizens, nor yet we the male citizens, but we the whole people who formed the union; men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less. By responding to the needs of all Americans, Congress will address the needs of all women as well.


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