Legal Momentum In Brief, March 2011

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March 1, 2011

Welfare Reform at Age 15: A Vanishing Safety Net for Women and Children

In 1996, the federal government "ended welfare as we know it," replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program.

Welfare Reform at Age 15: A Vanishing Safety Net for Women and Children, a new report by Legal Momentum, demonstrates that TANF has shredded the safety net.

Over the last fifteen years, TANF has utterly failed to offer its recipients – mostly children and single mothers – a path out of poverty. With benefits far below the poverty level, sanctions imposed erroneously or for trivial reasons, and a focus on "Work First" rather than an emphasis on education and training for higher-paying jobs, TANF is in desperate need of real reform.

Congress must enact legislation by September 30, 2011 to reauthorize or otherwise extend TANF. Welfare Reform at Age 15 shows that change is essential if TANF is to become an effective safety net. Benefits must be raised. The program’s intended beneficiaries need an enforceable right to aid. New access protections are required to assure that aid is provided promptly and that the program is sensitive to the needs of domestic violence victims. Education and training for living wage employment should be encouraged, not discouraged. Funding for child care and subsidized employment must be increased. Full family sanctions and eligibility exclusions unrelated to need should be banned.

  • Read Welfare Reform at Age 15: A Vanishing Safety Net for Women and Children →
  • Learn more about Legal Momentum’s work on Women and Poverty →

National Judicial Education Program Announces New Resources

The National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) is excited to announce the launch of its newest online resource where visitors can access 11 easy-to-present modules and resources for in-person training on cases involving adult victims of sexual assault. These materials provide information and valuable resources that will be useful to judges and individuals from a broad range of disciplines. The objective is to educate on the difficult issues that arise in criminal and civil cases involving sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Registration is free and open to all.

New, In-Person Modules:

  • Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse: Adjudicating This Hidden Dimension of Domestic Violence Cases, including six modules of varying lengths based on NJEP’s Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse web course.
  • Elder Victims of Sexual Abuse
  • Interpreters in Adult Victim Sexual Assault Cases
  • Jury Selection and Decision Making in Adult Victim Sexual Assault Cases
  • Women in Drug Treatment Courts: Sexual Assault as the Underlying Trauma
  • The Challenges of Adult Victim Sexual Assault Cases: Materials for New Judges

NJEP's has also developed a new publication as a featured component of the Materials for New Judges curriculum, Judges Tell: What I Wish I Had Known Before I Presided in an Adult Victim Sexual Assault Case. This publication presents a compendium of 25 points and commentary on key issues related to adult victim sexual assault. Judges Tell was developed by NJEP in conjunction with judges experienced in presiding in adult victim sexual assault cases. NJEP encourages judges and individuals from a broad range of disciplines to use and share this resource.

Legal Momentum Supports Women Of Wal-mart; Signs On To Amicus Brief

In 2001, several female Wal-Mart employees filed a court case against Wal-Mart claiming that their male counterparts were paid more and were promoted more often in violation of Title VII, the federal law that prohibits employment discrimination based on sex.

The federal district court in 2004 ruled in favor of plaintiffs’ request that the case be certified as a class action on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of similarly situated women who are or have been employed by Wal-Mart. In April 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld class certification. Wal-Mart decided to take the issue to the Supreme Court, which agreed to review the class certification in December.

On March 29th, plaintiffs and Wal-Mart argued their case in front of the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court reverses the class certification order, each woman employee desiring relief from discrimination might have to file an individual suit against Wal-Mart, the largest corporation and private employer in the United States. This would be an insurmountable obstacle for many, perhaps most, of the women employed by Wal-Mart.

Legal Momentum has signed onto an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs' argument that class certification was proper and should be upheld.

Legal Momentum Mourns The Passing Of Geraldine Ferraro

Legal Momentum mourns the passing of Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for Vice President on a national party ticket.

Ferraro advocated for women's rights throughout her professional career. In the 1970s, she developed and directed one of the nation’s first Special Victims Bureaus in the Queens Country District Attorney's Office, investigating rape, domestic violence, child abuse and other crimes that predominantly affect women and their families. As a Congresswoman from Queens, Ferraro supported public funding for abortion. She fought for the Equal Rights Amendment and the Pension Equity Act.

As the nominee for Vice President in 1984, Ferraro battled sexism in her characteristically calm and collected manner. In the Vice Presidential debate that year, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush insisted on referring to her as "Mrs. Ferraro" rather than "Congresswoman Ferraro." Throughout the debate, women across the country cheered as Ferraro blasted the Vice President for his sexist attempt to undermine her.

Geraldine Ferraro blazed a trail for American women in politics. Her ability to highlight and combat sexism set an example for the female candidates who followed her. She will be sorely missed.

New Report Highlights Women's Advancements And Persistent Inequities In The United States

In honor of women’s history month, the White House Council on Women and Girls, in conjunction with the Office of Management and Budget and the Economics and Statistics Administration, released "Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being," a report analyzing five key issues facing women: demographic and family changes, education, employment, health, and crime and violence.

"Women in America" demonstrates that women have advanced dramatically in American society, particularly in education. More than ever before, women, from diverse racial and ethnic groups, enroll in institutions of higher education. In 2011, there are more women than men in both undergraduate and graduate schools. Women also have higher graduation rates at all academic levels than men. Despite this progress, female students score lower than male students in mathematics assessment tests. Science, math and technology careers are dominated by men.

Gender segregation in career and technical education – the path to jobs in the skilled trades, which lead to occupations with high wages, benefits, and opportunities for professional growth – continues. Legal Momentum's Pipeline Program seeks to address this disparity, forging systemic change in educational institutions to end the long history of gender segregation in these schools and career fields, while increasing the earnings potential and future economic security of low-income women.

Furthermore, women's advances in education do not always translate success in the workforce. The gender pay gap continues: among those working full time, women earn, on average, 80 cents for every dollar men make.

"Women in America" also addresses the impact of criminal activity in American communities. Women are disproportionately affected by certain types of crime, particularly sexual victimization and intimate partner violence.

A recent study by Dr. Dean Kilpatrick of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, Drug-facilitated, Incapacitated and Forcible Rape: A National Study, found that "during the past year alone [2006], over 1 million women in the U.S. have been raped…Our estimates do not appear to support the widely held belief that rape has significantly declined in recent decades."

While sexual violence remains a persistent problem for American women, "Women in America" does note that the rate of nonfatal intimate partner violence against women declined by more than 50 percent between 1994 and 2008. 1994 marked the passage of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Legal Momentum was instrumental in passing VAWA and has advocated for its subsequent reauthorizations in 2000 and 2005. Since Congress passed VAWA in 1994, law enforcement and justice system officials have become increasingly involved in domestic violence cases, matters which were once perceived to be private concerns.

"Women in America" finds that while women have achieved significant advances in education and employment, much work remains. Legal Momentum continues to confront the issues facing American women and children.

SB 1070 Copycat Bills Threaten Health And Safety Of Immigrant Women And Children

A report by Colorlines magazine finds that sixteen states have introduced legislation similar to Arizona's SB 1070, the controversial immigration law blocked by a federal judge last July. Legal Momentum submitted an amicus curiae brief in that case, which detailed the severe harm SB 1070 would have caused immigrant women and their children.

SB 1070 makes it a misdemeanor for non-citizens to be in Arizona without documentation. The law also makes it a crime to shelter, hire or transport undocumented immigrants and forces police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being undocumented. Legal Momentum successfully argued that, if implemented, these provisions would threaten immigrant women’s health and safety, increase the risk that immigrant women would be separated from their children and punish immigrant women victims of violence.

Over the past two decades, Congress and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have made major strides in addressing the barriers to safety immigrant women face, particularly immigrant victims of domestic violence, trafficking, and sexual assault. Thanks to Legal Momentum, the 2000 and 2005 reauthorizations of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) included specific provisions to help immigrant women victims of violence, including the U visa and the T visa. Legal Momentum, in partnership with the Vera Institute for Justice, also trains local law enforcement agencies on using these visas.

SB 1070 copycat bills threaten this work. Immigrant women will be reluctant to seek help or report crimes for fear of being detained or deported. Currently, fewer than 20% of immigrant women victims of violence who are undocumented or who have temporary legal status seek help from law enforcement, compared to more than half of women victims of violence in the general population. Fewer undocumented women are likely to report crimes or seek aid if states enact SB 1070 copycat laws.

Legal Momentum believes that reforms in immigration laws and policies will be most effective in improving conditions of immigrant women and their families when they are grounded in an understanding of the challenges and circumstances confronted by many immigrant women in America.