Legal Momentum News Brief, May 2013

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May 30, 2013

Legal Momentum--Speaking on Pay Equity

The American Association of University Women Staten Island Chapter recently invited Legal Momentum president Elizabeth Grayer to speak on the topic of pay equity in New York State and New York City.  After explaining the basic federal, state and local legal tools currently available, she went on to discuss pending legislation that could significantly assist in achieving pay equity.  This includes: 1) the Paycheck Fairness Act, currently still languishing in Congress, and 2) New York Governor Cuomo’s “10-Point Women’s Equality Act,” announced earlier this year.

Some of the important points Ms. Grayer made in her presentation concerned the reasoning behind the wage gap.  Much speculation has been given to factors including family care, women clustered in part-time or traditionally female jobs, and women being less likely to negotiate better wages.  However, a good 40% of the gender wage gap is still unexplained, and that strongly points to discrimination.  Ms. Grayer pointed out that the issue needs to be addressed in several areas.  In addition, while the factors of “leaning in” affect women in higher-paying jobs, the bulk of US working women are in lower-paying jobs with fewer opportunities--and they have more difficulty with pay equity.  Even jobs that are female-dominated have a wage gap.  Women’s job outlook must be improved both in the type of jobs they can attain, and in ridding the discrimination that leads to low-income job clustering.

TANF Participation of Eligible Families is Falling – but from Obstacles to Access, Not Less Need

Legal Momentum has a new brief report, TANF Receipt Falls to Less than One Third of Eligible Families, showing a troublesome decline in participation in the federal block grant program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The report is based upon new figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Legal Momentum has previously examined how and why TANF enrollment has fallen since ‘’welfare reform’’ began in the 1990s.  As discussed in our detailed 2011 report “Welfare Reform at 15,” the decline appears to be due to restrictive policies and unreasonable hurdles in accessing the program, rather than due to actual decreased need.  In addition to application process barriers, these obstacles include time limits, family caps, and five-year eligibility bans for legal immigrants.  One of the important facts to take away from the report is that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly the Food Stamp program) continues to enroll most eligible families, even as TANF enrolls a smaller and smaller minority of eligible families.  

TANF Misery Index Higher

Not only is participation in TANF falling, but the “Misery Index” of TANF is going up.  That index shows the sum of the percent of poor families (or children) not receiving TANF, and the percent gap between TANF benefits and the poverty level. This indicates how well or badly TANF is performing in alleviating family poverty.  A recent article in PolicyMic describes the Index, citing our report released in April.

WOW Foundation Taps Legal Momentum’s Expertise on Single Mothers and Poverty

In a three-part series called “The Face of American Poverty Today,” the Women of the World Foundation looks at how single mothers are stuck in poverty, even if they are still working.  Writer Amanda L. Freeman spoke with Legal Momentum on the topic, quoting Timothy Casey, senior counsel, on the US’s lack of comprehensive safety net of public benefits: "Our social welfare programs are much less generous than other high-income countries, and low-wage work is much more common in America." 

Discussing Prosecutors’ Decisions on Charging Sexual Offenses

The Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota School of Law brings together leading practitioners and scholars from the United States and abroad to discuss transformative ideas for achieving better criminal justice policies and practices, including greater sensitivity to the needs and interests of victims.

In April, the Director of Legal Momentum's National Judicial Education Program, Lynn Hecht Schafran, participated in a two-day Institute on "Rethinking Sexual Offenses," attended by practitioners and scholars from the U.S., Canada, and the UK.  She was the responder to a paper on prosecutors' charging decisions in sexual assault cases.

Prosecutors are often unwilling to charge a sexual assault case that does not match the stereotype of a stranger jumping from the bushes with a knife.  They fear that jurors in their community will not convict, and that will ruin their win/loss record.  Given that the vast majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, without using a weapon or inflicting visible, physical injuries, this means that there is a serious gap between even the small percentage of rapes that are reported and those that are prosecuted.

Another issue influencing prosecutors' charging decisions is that many do not know how to investigate and try a non-stranger rape case, which makes them reluctant to charge the typical case.  The good news is that under the Violence Against Women Act, which Legal Momentum has championed since its inception in l991,  there has been extensive training for prosecutors across the country, including with a four-day curriculum developed by Legal Momentum's National Judicial Education Program.  These trainings have resulted in significant improvements in prosecutors' skills, their willingness to try the difficult cases, and their success in educating their juries.

Bringing Attention to the Domestic Violence Issue in Gun Violence Prevention

The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, which Legal Momentum founded in the 1990s to promote national legislation on violence against women, is engaging in a letter campaign regarding the Manchin-Toomey amendment introduced in the Senate in April.  That amendment would have expanded background checks to all gun sales on the internet and commercial settings.  The amendment was defeated but may be reintroduced soon. The letter campaign is to both thank those senators who voted in favor of the amendment, and to express concern and disappointment to those who did not.  The Task Force emphasizes the intersection between gun violence and sexual and domestic violence. As the Task Force explains in the letters, research shows that access to firearms yields a more than five-fold increase in risk of intimate partner homicide when considering other factors of abuse.  The Task Force is a coalition of more than 1300 state, local, national and Tribal organizations serving millions of victims of sexual and domestic violence.

Educating Tradeswomen and Allies on Regulations

Legal Momentum’s Equality Works program is following up its highly successful Working on Equal Terms Summit by providing information for tradeswomen and allies concerning apprenticeship and construction equal opportunity regulations.  Equality Works, with the National Task Force on Tradeswomen’s Issues, is creating educational campaigns to help inform tradeswomen about expected new rulemaking that will directly affect them, and to help tradeswomen make their voices heard in this important area.

***News Stories from Around the Nation***

Women’s Reproductive Health--Two family physicians write about the problems in the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education’s proposed changes to the guidelines for family medicine residency programs—which suggests removing the requirement that residents learn to provide contraception.  

Workplace Rights--The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was reintroduced April 25 in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. The Act is intended to bring federal employment protection on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity. This article describes the bill.  

Domestic Violence-- This Mother Jones article points out statistics on domestic violence and the greater likelihood of people being subjected to violence in the home than outside. 

Sexual Violence-- Senator Claire McCaskill writes about fighting for victims of sexual assault in the military and changing the military justice system.

Sexual Violence—The sad stories of teenage victims of sexual assault committing suicide.  

Education-- The Secretary of Education writes about the benefits of universal preschool.

Pay Equity—US Congressional districts with the largest gender pay gaps also have lawmakers opposing fair pay legislation.