Public Policy Issues
NCJW members and supporters across the country work together with one another, coalition partners, and the NCJW offices in Washington and Jerusalem to take action on a wide variety of domestic and international issues. Guided by NCJW's mission and resolutions, this ambitious yet focused public policy agenda solidifies NCJW's position at the forefront of social change.
NCJW is a tireless advocate for the enactment and enforcement of laws and regulations that protect civil rights and individual liberties for all. The principles enunciated in the Bill of Rights -- freedom of speech and assembly and the right to due process of law, among others -- have been primary concerns of NCJW in times of war and peace alike. Since 9/11, a new national debate has been underway on whether civil liberties can or should be curtailed in the face of terrorist threats. NCJW holds fast to its assertion that human rights and dignity are fundamental and must be guaranteed to all individuals.
The right to free speech is established in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and attempts to undermine it have been the subject of numerous court cases and legislative actions since the amendment was ratified in 1791. In recent years, efforts have been mounted in Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning and pass a law against flag desecration. Such efforts have failed to date. There have also been periodic efforts by the government to silence whistleblowers and experts who hold opinions or even simply speak facts the government does not want the public to hear. Additionally, the government has attempted to restrict protest demonstrations through use of Secret Service rules that explicitly call for demonstrators to be confined to areas where their signs would not be visible to the president. Such varied and aggressive efforts threaten the civil liberties of all Americans.
NCJW is firmly against restrictions of free speech, be they against symbolic acts like flag-burning, curtailment of the right to demonstrate, or government censorship of any kind. NCJW also believes that government whistleblowers must be protected from retaliation.
A writ of habeas corpus is a petition to a court to show cause why someone should continue to be held in prison, and stands as a bedrock of the US's system of civil liberties and due process. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush Administration sought to claim that suspected terrorists and enemy combatants could be held indefinitely without filing any charges against them. In June 2006, the Supreme Court ruled otherwise in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, stating that the military commissions at Guantanamo created by President Bush violated US military law as well as Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. In response, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act in November 2006. The act sets up a system of dealing with detainees that severely curtails their rights and bars access to the courts, including the right to file a writ of habeas corpus.
NCJW believes that the US should honor the Geneva Convention and supports the restoration of habeas corpus and due process. At a time when the US is engaged in a worldwide battle of ideas in support of human rights, religious tolerance, and civil liberties, the denial of habeas corpus sends a message that the US is willing to forfeit the rule of law under duress. Such a position weakens the US's international standing and ability to demand a commitment to the rule of law from others.
On December 31, 2012, President Obama signed the 2012 defense authorization bill which, for the first time in US history, would allow indefinite detention by US military authorities of anyone, including US citizens, suspected of terrorist activities or of “supporting” such activities, whether apprehended on US soil or anywhere else in the world. The provision was opposed by the military, the FBI, the Justice Department, and the State Department, and it appears to violate international law, since it is not limited to people captured in an armed conflict. Further, the new law makes it more difficult to transfer suspects out of military detention or to transfer cleared detainees to foreign countries for resettlement or repatriation.
In recent years, legislative amendments and secretive government actions have eroded individual rights to privacy. Amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) made in the aftermath of 9/11, for example, eased restrictions on electronic eavesdropping and secret searches and seizures. The government has conducted unlawful eavesdropping, telecommunications companies have been implicated in breaches of privacy rights, and broad permissions for spying are still under effect today.
NCJW supports the protection of every individual’s right to privacy. NCJW opposes warrantless domestic surveillance and has called on Congress to restore the rule of law and hold the administration and other parties, such as telecommunications companies, accountable for violations of civil liberties.
In July 2008, Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments (FISA), which reauthorized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and legalized the administration’s previously illegal warrantless wiretapping activities. Several groups filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law, which was dismissed when the plaintiffs could not prove they were victims of any surveillance.
In 2010, Congress voted to renew the three expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act for one year. Attempts in both the Senate and House Judiciary committees to require greater oversight failed to get a vote on the floor. Shorter extensions were approved in 2011 as legislators tried again to limit what they consider abuses and violations of constitutional rights.
Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, signed by the US in 1949, requires that prisoners be treated humanely. It bars both "cruel treatment and torture" and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." However, policies and actions taken by the Bush Administration were not been consistent with this standard of humane treatment. In March 2008 President Bush vetoed a bill that would have extended the application of the US Army Field Manual -- which bars torture -- to the CIA. Additionally, news reports in April 2008 revealed that the most senior officials of the Administration discussed and sanctioned the application of torture to named prisoners.
NCJW believes that human rights and dignity are fundamental and must be guaranteed to all individuals. As such, NCJW abhors the use of torture and the degrading treatment of prisoners and has called upon all three branches of government to work to restore and bolster our constitutional rights and civil liberties, ending unjust and inhumane policies and practices perpetrated in the name of national security.
Upon taking office in 2009, President Obama reversed the most disputed counterterrorism policies of the Bush administration by executive order. However, in September 2010, his administration won a federal appeals court ruling that former prisoners of the CIA could not sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might reveal government secrets.
NCJW believes that a democratic society and its people must value diversity and promote mutual understanding and respect for all. As such, since its inception, NCJW has been a tireless advocate for the enactment and enforcement of laws and regulations that protect civil rights. NCJW has advocated for public policies that promote equal rights, end discrimination, and encourage opportunities for people of all backgrounds. Today that effort continues as NCJW seeks to end all discrimination against individuals on the basis of race, gender, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. NCJW continues to work for the enactment and enforcement of laws and regulations that preserve civil rights for all to ensure that the plurality of voices and opinions that make our democracy strong are heard in every facet of society.
Women and minorities have faced systematic discrimination and unequal treatment throughout history. Affirmative action attempts to level the playing field by providing qualified individuals with equal access to educational and professional opportunities. Since 1978, when the Supreme Court’s decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke permitted the use of race as one factor in college admissions, universities and colleges have successfully employed affirmative action plans to attract a more diverse group of qualified students. In two 2003 decisions tied to undergraduate and law school admissions at the University of Michigan, the Supreme Court upheld these practices. Opponents of affirmative action argue that it offers “special rights” to oppressed minorities, and have begun to reverse Supreme Court protections by passing anti-affirmative action measures at the state level.
NCJW supports equal opportunity for all in the public and private sectors through programs such as affirmative action. NCJW believes that a democratic society and its people must value diversity and foster mutual understanding and respect for all. NCJW has signed amicus briefs in support of affirmative action in Supreme Court cases, and has been active in working against ballot initiatives to ban affirmative action in state constitutions.
In 2006, California businessman Ward Connerly launched a ballot initiative to amend the Michigan constitution to ban affirmative action. This ballot initiative, deceptively known as the “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative,” passed. During the 2008 election cycle, Connerly launched similar campaigns in five additional states and failed in all but one, the state of Nebraska.
The American legal and judicial systems are tasked with enforcing federal, state, and local laws. However, US laws are not always designed, or enforced justly. While a society's laws should maintain order and protect all of its citizens, the US criminal justice system is in need of major reform to correct racial and economic inequalities. In 2006, the Justice Department reported that there were 2,258,983 prisoners in federal, state, and local jails — and approximately half of those currently incarcerated are African-American. This figure is alarming given that African-Americans currently make up only 12 percent of the total US population, translating to a devastating reality: 1 out of every 14 African- American males is in prison. Because US law bars inmates from the right to vote, this injustice also results in mass disenfranchisement. Further, 42 percent of current death row inmates are African-American. These fundamental inequalities have caused many governors and judges to create or uphold state-level moratoriums of the death penalty.
Additionally, the criminal justice system is becoming increasingly privatized. The private prison system — which provides sub-standard, for-profit care for inmates throughout the country — is not subject to the same standards and oversight as public prisons. This places the incarcerated population in danger and often results in disturbing civil rights violations. These prisons are exempt from labor laws, so they can force inmates to work for pennies an hour while the corporations running the facility profit from their labor.
NCJW endorses and resolves to work for the enactment and enforcement of laws and regulations that protect civil rights and individual liberties for all, and for the abolition of the death penalty. NCJW believes that discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity must be eliminated. Based on these principles, NCJW believes that the US criminal justice system is in need of reform — not only to address current inequalities and flaws in the prison system, but to approach violence and crime with a preventive, not exclusively punitive, eye.
The American Disability Act (ADA), enacted in 1990, is a broad civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability in part by extending the provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and national origin illegal. It also provides specific protections related to employment, public services, public accommodation, and telecommunications. In 2008, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act, which reaffirmed protections for persons with disabilities in various employment situations — protections that had been eroded by federal court decisions. Despite the great strides made by the ADA, additional civil rights and protections are needed for people with disabilities, especially in the area of employment, where virtually no improvements have been made since the passage of the ADA.
NCJW opposes discrimination on the basis of disability and supports the expansion of civil rights for people with disabilities. NCJW believes that all relevant laws and policies must be enforced and that steps be taken to ensure that people with disabilities have equal rights and access.
In October 2009, the President signed The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. Previously, federal law defined a hate crime as a crime motivated by bias against the victim based on race, religion, or country of origin. The 2009 law expanded the definition of a hate crime to include bias-motivated crimes based on real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability, and it extends the federal government’s jurisdiction to help investigate and prosecute these crimes.
NCJW works to support policies that extend civil rights protections to all Americans, and worked for more than 10 years to ensure the passage of strong hate crimes laws, playing a leading role in the national hate crimes coalition.
Reform of the United States immigration system has become an increasingly prominent and contentious issue in recent years. Since the 2012 election when Hispanic voters showed their electoral strength, there has been bipartisan resolve to act on comprehensive immigration reform legislation. A comprehensive reform approach would address border security, employment practices, the status of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and the system by which applicants for legal residency and citizenship are processed, including the current backlog of applicants. A just and humane immigration policy would: secure the broadest possible legalization with a path to citizenship; preserve and work to advance family reunification; protect rights and working conditions for all workers; ensure enforcement measures protect American and immigrant workers, advance due process and fair treatment and are consistent with American values; and accord the responsibility and rights required for full integration into American society. Such an approach would bring the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, living the United States and contributing to our economy and society, out of the shadows.
NCJW works for comprehensive, humane, and equitable immigration and naturalization laws, policies, and practices that facilitate and expedite legal status for more individuals. We support measures such as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), which failed in Congress but has been passed by several states across the country, as a way to expedite the path to citizenship and higher education for the best and brightest immigrant children. As the country is poised to enact comprehensive immigration reform, NCJW seeks to promote measures that provide a direct and inclusive path to citizenship without unjust enforcement triggers and rejects the enforcement-only approach that separates families and persecutes those seeking opportunity and a better life.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals face discrimination in almost all aspects of life with no protection from federal laws and policies. This deprivation of civil rights, including the exclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories under nearly all federal civil rights statutes, is a fundamental affront to human rights. Same-sex couples do not receive the social and economic benefits that are accorded to opposite-sex married couples. LGBT individuals also face the risk of being fired or denied a job based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
NCJW believes that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity must be eliminated. NCJW also supports laws that would provide equal rights for same-sex couples, and the passage of comprehensive legislation that would expand civil rights protections for every Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individual. This includes an expansion of laws that would protect LGBT youth against bullying, harassment and discrimination in public schools.
NCJW opposes the so-called Marriage Protection Act and Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which would restrict individual states’ rights to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and would define the terms "marriage" and "spouse" under federal law for the first time in US history. Since this legislation has not become federal law, efforts to restrict marriage at the state level through legislation and ballot initiatives have proliferated. NCJW supports the Respect for Marriage Act, which would overturn DOMA and provide every married couple with the same rights under federal law.
NCJW also supports the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, (ENDA) a bill that would update our national employment laws to make it illegal to fire, or not hire someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Free and fair elections are the bedrock of any democracy. The right to be an active participant in those elections by voting is a core and essential freedom. Yet this right has not always been granted to every American. NCJW is proud of our work for women’s suffrage. Additionally, widespread disenfranchisement of individuals based on immutable characteristics has taken place throughout the country. Systematic efforts to disenfranchise voters through poll taxes (fees charged for voting designed to disenfranchise the poor, African-Americans, and Native Americans) and literacy tests resulted in the deprivation of voting rights for countless Americans. The 1965 Voting Rights Act sought to rectify this injustice by prohibiting states from imposing any qualifier or prerequisite to voting or by denying the right of any citizen to vote on account of race or color. And the 1992 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) expanded rights for persons with disabilities, individuals in need of language translation, and others who had previously been unable to cast their ballots. Despite these important advancements, many eligible voters remain disenfranchised, undermining American democracy, and violating their basic rights.
NCJW resolves to work for election laws, policies, and practices that ensure easy and equitable access to the electoral process and that every vote counts and can be verified. Further, NCJW is committed to the enactment and enforcement of laws and regulations that protect civil rights and individual liberties for all. These values compel NCJW to support legislation and enforcement of laws pursuant to full enfranchisement and representation for all eligible voters. Join NCJW’s efforts on this issue by taking part in NCJW’s Promote the Vote, Protect the Vote initiative.
On April 28, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Indiana’s voter identification law, which had been challenged by advocates of traditionally disenfranchised voters as unconstitutional. Since then, voter ID laws have been passed systematically across the country in an effort to disenfranchise seniors, poor, and student voters. NCJW believes that voter ID law is unconstitutional and signed an amicus brief in the case challenging it. NCJW will continue to oppose any effort to erode voting rights.
Another barrier to full voter enfranchisement in the United States results from denial of voting rights in our nation’s capital. The residents of the District of Columbia pay taxes and serve in the military, but they do not have voting representation in Congress where decisions are made about taxation and war. On February 26, 2009, the Senate passed S 160, the DC House Voting Rights Act, a balanced, bipartisan bill that is supported by the majority of members of Congress. Unfortunately, the Senate approved it with an amendment which would repeal most of the District of Columbia’s gun restrictions and restrict the right to local autonomy. The bill was not signed into law. NCJW will continue to advocate for every person’s right to; voting representation, access to the polls, and having their vote counted.
Despite major gains over the last hundred years, women continue to face discrimination in virtually every area of public life — including employment, insurance, health care, education, and the criminal justice system. Despite some legislative progress, women are also discriminated against when it comes to retirement programs and health care coverage. Efforts to add the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the constitution — which would provide an explicit guarantee for women’s equality — have been unsuccessful despite decades of advocacy. And while the groundbreaking Title IX statute has effectively reduced discrimination against young women in athletic and federally-funded educational programs, women and girls continue to experience challenges in these arenas.
NCJW believes that equal rights and equal opportunities for women must be guaranteed. As such, NCJW supports programs and initiatives that aim to level the playing field for women and girls. This includes efforts to strengthen and expand Title IX and the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Equal Rights Amendment was reintroduced in the Senate and House of Representatives in early 2011.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act broke new ground in protecting individuals from discrimination. Title VII of the Act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Although this legislation was a concrete step in the effort to eradicate workplace discrimination, many barriers to justice in the workplace remain. The list of protected categories did not include sexual orientation, disability, gender, or gender identity and so there is federal protections against workplace discrimination based on these characteristics have had to be hard-won. For protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the work continues.
Over the years, efforts have been made to expand the protections offered under Title VII. Additionally, laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination and other bias in the workplace have been enacted. In the last decade, however, the courts have chipped away at the employment provisions of the Civil Rights Act, resulting in the erosion of rights and fewer opportunities to seek redress following an act of discrimination.
NCJW endorses and resolves to work for employment laws, policies, and practices that provide equal pay for work of comparable worth and equal opportunities for advancement. Additionally, NCJW is committed to the enactment and enforcement of laws and regulations that protect civil rights and individual liberties for all.
The Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA) would require accommodation of religious practice in the workplace where those practices do not interfere with one’s job or significantly inconvenience the employers. Such practices may include taking time off for religious holiday observances or wearing specific religious garb. Unfortunately, the bill also includes vague language that could undercut the civil rights of fellow employees, employers, or other third parties. While NCJW believes that employees should not have to choose between practicing their religion and pursuing a livelihood, there must be safeguards that ensure that the rights of others are not infringed upon in this effort. NCJW opposes any version of WRFA that would open the door to compromising the rights of others in the name of religion but would welcome compromise legislation that provides protections for religious practice in the workplace without jeopardizing the rights of others.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act was introduced to restore protections eroded by the Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear which stated that an employee facing pay discrimination has only 180 days from the issuing of the first paycheck containing the discriminatory wage to file a claim against the employer. This decision overturned years of precedent and policy, making it harder for victims of discrimination to seek justice. On January 23, 2009 President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, ensuring that no victim of discrimination would be caught in the unjust loophole of having waited too long to bring a lawsuit.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would be the companion law to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act by giving employers and women the tools they need to prevent discrimination. The bill strengthens the Equal Pay Act by taking steps to encourage more transparency in the workplace, provide more training for and enforcement by appropriate government agencies, and strengthen penalties against employers who violate equal pay laws. In April 2011, the Paycheck Fairness Act was reintroduced by Senator Barbara Mikulski and Representative Rosa DeLauro.
NCJW believes that a democratic society must fulfill its obligation to provide for the needs of those unable to provide for themselves. As such, NCJW has, through the years, worked on behalf of public policies that address the needs of low-income and working Americans. While the American Dream promises economic opportunity and hope for a better future, many people in this country face a very different reality. In the United States, poverty -- not prosperity -- is the reality for millions of individuals and families who daily make difficult choices between food, rent, medical bills, and other basic expenses. Though their faces and stories are often unknown, millions in this country go without health care because they cannot afford it. Millions work multiple jobs because one minimum wage paycheck does not offer sufficient income capable of sustaining a family. And the majority of those living in this reality are women. In 2010, there were 46.2 million people in the US living in poverty, including more than 17 million women and more than 16 million kids. And, just as women and children make up a disproportionate number of those living in poverty they also represent the largest population of recipients of many of the human needs programs that take aim at poverty.
Article I of the US Constitution grants Congress the power and responsibility to allocate resources for federal agencies, programs, and services. Accordingly, each year, Congress puts together a budget resolution that outlines their fiscal year spending proposal and then drafts appropriations bills that, when signed into law, allocate monies to federal agencies and programs. Periodically, members of Congress or the president propose budget process reforms that they believe will improve the way in which Congress carries out its fiscal responsibility.
For example, presidents occasionally urge Congress to approve the "line-item veto," a rule that would allow the executive to strike specific provisions of an appropriations bill rather than vetoing the entire piece of legislation. Other budget process changes proposed recently include: "sunset commissions," often unelected -- and thus not accountable to the public -- bodies that would be tasked with assessing the effectiveness of government agencies and programs with the stated goal of reducing government waste; "fixed deficit targets," which would require automatic across-the-board cuts to all, or almost all, entitlement programs (e.g. Medicare and Medicaid) if not met; "discretionary spending caps," statutory caps on total funding for discretionary programs that, if exceeded, would trigger automatic across-the-board cuts in discretionary programs; and a balanced budget amendment to the constitution that would threaten our nation’s ability to respond to the needs of families during recessions and natural disasters.
The National Council of Jewish Women understands the need for fiscal responsibility and government oversight of the agencies and programs funded with federal dollars. However, NCJW believes that the process of allocating resources should be a fair and open process, with no one individual or political party holding all of the power.
In August 2011, President Obama signed into law the Budget Control Act, the last-minute agreement that avoided a potentially disastrous default on national debt. In that agreement was a multi-step pathway to achieve a minimum of $2.1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade. Specifically, the Budget Control Act: Imposes discretionary spending caps during fiscal years 2012 and 2013; creates a "super committee" charged with finding savings of between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion through fiscal year 2021, savings that can be achieved by reducing spending or increasing revenues; establishes an enforcement mechanism in the form of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts if Congress is unable to reach an agreement on $1.2 trillion in savings; and forces a vote on a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.
Each year, Congress passes budget and appropriations legislation that allocates federal dollars for government programs and services for the coming fiscal year. The outcome of the federal budget process has a significant impact on the lives of all Americans—especially women. In 2006, there were 36.5 million people living in poverty: 21 million of them were women. Just as women make up a disproportionate number of those living in poverty, they also represent the largest population of recipients of many of the human needs programs (like child care assistance, nutrition programs, housing assistance, etc.) that take aim at poverty.
NCJW supports laws, policies, and programs that provide a level of services and income that meet basic human needs while encouraging self-sufficiency. Our federal budget reflects the values and priorities of our nation. NCJW advocates for a federal budget and annual appropriations bills that prioritize domestic concerns, like the unmet needs of low-income families and victims of domestic violence, public schools, and health care for the growing number of individuals who have no access.
On August 2, 2011, President Obama signed into law the Budget Control Act, the last-minute agreement that avoided a potentially disastrous default on national debt. Among other things, the Budget Control Act created a "super committee" charged with finding savings of between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion through fiscal year 2021, savings that can be achieved by reducing spending or increasing revenues or a combination of the two. On Nov. 21, 2011, the “super committee” announced that they were unable to reach a deal. As a result, if Congress does not act, significant cuts in discretionary spending, including defense, will take effect in January 2013.
The federal minimum wage is a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), passed by Congress in 1938. At the time of its enactment, the FLSA set a minimum wage of $0.25 per hour and also set standards regarding overtime pay and child labor. Because minimum wage increases are passed at the will of Congress as amendments to the FLSA, many of the individuals living in poverty in the US today work full time jobs but still do not earn a "livable wage," or an income that covers basic needs. As of July 24, 2007, the federal minimum wage was only $5.85 per hour. Raising the federal minimum wage is a necessary step toward ensuring economic security for America's working families. Women are disproportionately affected, making up 59 percent of the workers who struggle to live on this low wage.
NCJW supports laws, policies, and programs that provide a level of services and income that meet basic human needs while encouraging self-sufficiency. As such, NCJW supports a livable wage that automatically adjusts for cost of living increases and allows workers with full-time jobs to rise above the poverty rate.
In 2007, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the first increase in the federal minimum wage in over a decade. The increase occured in three stages: to $5.85 per hour effective July 24, 2007; to $6.55 per hour effective July 24, 2008; and to $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009.
Social Security was created in 1935 as a social insurance program designed to pay retired workers age 65 or older a continuing income after retirement. It is one of the most successful programs the federal government has ever enacted. For nearly 70 years, it has insured a minimum standard of living for retirees, survivors, and disabled workers. It has slashed the poverty rate among senior citizens and boasts administrative costs totaling less than one percent of benefits. The Social Security Administration has found that 65 percent of senior citizens rely on Social Security for a majority of their income. Because women have longer lifespans, often work in unpaid caregiver roles that are not accounted for, and earn less than men, Social Security has a disproportionate impact on women.
NCJW believes that any effort to reform Social Security must protect women who haven’t worked long enough at high enough wages to earn adequate benefits of their own, maintain a progressive benefit structure, account for women’s unique caregiving and labor force experiences, and -- most of all -- strive to reduce poverty among elderly women. NCJW opposes privatizing Social Security.
In past years, some lawmakers have made attempts to privatize Social Security on the grounds that the program is near crisis. However, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until 2036, and 77 percent of benefits after that. To date, privatization attempts have failed.
Typically, government efforts to assist low- and moderate-income families take the form of social service programs that aim to alleviate or eliminate the stress and hardships faced by the nation's neediest families. In recent years, however, tax policy has joined federal spending for human needs programs as a key weapon in the fight against poverty. For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) -- which reduces the impact of payroll and income taxes paid by low- and moderate-income workers, supplements the earnings of very low-wage workers, and may be returned in the form of an IRS refund check -- has become the largest cash assistance program for low-income families. Further, the largest increase in support of those families in the past decade came by way of the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Enacted in 1997 and expanded in 2001, the Child Tax Credit is a $1,000 per-child tax benefit intended to defray some of the costs associated with raising children.
The National Council of Jewish Women considers the federal budget and tax code moral documents that reflect our values as a nation. It is often said that the moral test of a nation is in how it treats its most vulnerable people. As such, NCJW believes that a top priority of government must be to have sufficient revenue to meet critical human needs -- needs that are best addressed by equitable fiscal and tax policies that preserve the principle of progressive taxation. (A progressive tax code is one that makes the distribution of after-tax income more equal than the distribution of pre-tax income.)
Welfare programs aim to provide assistance and work opportunities to needy families with the goal of ultimately helping those families achieve self-sufficiency. From 1935 through 1996, poor families with children received cash welfare through the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. Then, in 1996, Congress replaced the ADFC program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. Under TANF, the federal government provides money for states to use to operate their own programs. TANF dollars can be used in ways designed to meet any of the four purposes set out in federal law, which are to: "(1) provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (2) end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out of wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and (4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two parent families." The TANF program, as with many social service programs, disproportionately serves women.
The National Council of Jewish Women firmly believes that the overarching objective of the TANF program must be to maintain and improve programs that help low-income families meet their most basic human needs while encouraging self-sufficiency. Further, NCJW is deeply committed to ensuring that this important program accommodates all who need it -- including women with disabilities, mental illness, or who are caring for family members with disabilities or mental illness.
Women and families often have difficulty balancing the responsibilities of the workplace with obligations at home. Workplace practices and policies can either complicate that balancing effort, making it more difficult, or help facilitate the work-family balance for employees. Just as the state and federal government has stepped in to ensure workplace safety, an end to child labor, and a minimum wage; so, too, can the government promote family-friendly employment policies. This sentiment was the impetus behind the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) enacted in 1992. Unfortunately, the FMLA only provides unpaid job-protected leave of up to 12 weeks to eligible employees. Further, though 145 countries guarantee paid sick days, the US is not one of them. Currently, there is no federal law requiring employers to guarantee paid sick days to their workers. As such, men and women are forced to go to work sick, send a sick child to school, or improvise less-than-ideal solutions when a family member is sick. Providing all individuals with a modest amount of paid sick leave allows American workers to better balance work and family responsibilities.
NCJW supports laws, policies, and employment practices that allow workers to meet both family and work responsibilities. As such, NCJW supports paid family leave and common-sense public health legislation that would provide a minimum number of paid sick days for all workers to use to care for themselves or a family member.
Throughout its history, NCJW has been committed to advocating for laws, policies, and employment practices that allow workers to meet both family and work responsibilities. The Healthy Families Act helps achieve that work-family balance by guaranteeing a minimum number of paid sick days so that workers don’t have to choose between going to work and caring for themselves or a sick family member. Importantly, the bill also allows victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to use paid sick days to seek assistance. NCJW believes that the Healthy Families Act is both a critical support for working families and an essential safeguard for victims of domestic violence whose safety often depends on their level of financial security.
NCJW has long advocated for peace, human rights, and the interests and needs of women, children and families throughout the world. An early supporter of the United Nations, NCJW has had NGO status with full representation for many decades. As far back as 1898, Hannah G. Solomon, NCJW founder and then president, wrote to President McKinley advocating an end to the Spanish-American war. Over a century later, NCJW still speaks out for peace and human rights, advocating against human trafficking and genocide, among other international concerns.
Many large banking entities, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), oversee large sum loans to poverty-stricken countries. These loans accrue interest and debt, resulting in the world’s poorest nations being bound to paying loan debt rather than using funds to meet the nutritional, medical, and educational needs of their people. Debt relief measures implemented in 1999 and 2005 have helped developing nations address these broader needs within their country; yet, many of the world’s poorest countries did not benefit from these previous rounds of debt relief.
NCJW believes that a democratic society must recognize its obligation to provide for the needs of individuals unable to provide for themselves. NCJW supports policies that relieve developing nations of the debts that cripple their ability to address poverty and hunger within their borders.
NCJW supported the Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation of 2007 (HR 2634). Known as the Jubilee Act, this legislation sought to establish a framework for transparent and responsible lending, provide debt audits to ensure that the debts owed were not accrued by undemocratic regimes that withheld the funds from the people, prohibit harmful economic and policy conditions on lent sums, and expand the debt cancellation granted earlier to qualified countries who have maximized previous opportunities. The Jubilee Act has not yet been enacted, but NCJW continues to support its principles and work for the realization of its goals.
Genocide is the systematic destruction of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group. Currently, the Darfur region of Sudan -- Africa’s largest nation -- is embroiled in a brutal genocide. The Sudanese government, along with its proxy militia, has wrought havoc against the people of the region for more than five years, resulting in more than 400,000 deaths to date. The people of Darfur have been subject to rape, torture, violence, and murder. Over two million people have been forced to flee their homes and villages, and 3.5 million are at risk of starvation. Even those who have found refuge in neighboring Chad face a uncertain future due to that country’s deteriorating political situation. The genocide in Darfur stands as a humanitarian crisis in need of aggressive international intervention.
NCJW actively works for the elimination of genocide. As a Jewish organization, NCJW knows the high cost of inaction and silence in the face of genocide, and the importance of treating all groups of people with respect and tolerance. NCJW supports US and international pressure on Sudan and intervention in Darfur to end the genocide. In 2007, NCJW divested of its investments in companies with connections to the government of Sudan.
On December 31, 2007, with the support of NCJW and a broad-based coalition of international organizations, the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act of 2007 (SADA) became law. SADA protects the right of states and investment firms to divest from companies with connections to the government of Sudan. Nevertheless, violence surged again in Darfur in 2010.
The term “human rights” typically refers to the set of rights established and preserved in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, largely in response to the Nazi Holocaust. Since then, the United Nations has expanded human rights law to encompass specific standards for women, children, minorities, migrant workers, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. The preamble to the declaration begins by stating that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of the freedom, justice and peace in the world,” emphatically stating that the erosion of these fundamental freedoms represents a threat to world peace. In order to uphold these essential human rights, the US must work to design and enact policies both domestically and abroad which meet and exceed the international standard.
NCJW believes that human rights and dignity are fundamental and must be guaranteed to all individuals. NCJW’s position on this international issue also informs the organization’s stance on variety of domestic issues, including, but not limited to, gun control, genocide, human trafficking, torture, criminal justice, and immigration. In the US and abroad, NCJW works for the realization of every person to thrive, endowed with human rights and dignity.
NCJW strongly supports ratification of two important conventions that seek to protect women and children — the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The US stands virtually alone in not ratifying these conventions, which have been pending for 32 and 22 years respectively. This inaction greatly hinders the United States' moral authority and our ability to persuade others to abandon discriminatory practices and should be reversed forthwith.
Learn more about NCJW’s efforts to preserve human rights and the organization’s stance on torture.
Human trafficking is the practice, occurring around the world, of transporting individuals from one place to another for forced labor usually without compensation. Trafficking victims, often lured by false promises of decent jobs and better lives, are made to labor against their will through force, fraud, or coercion. Worldwide, women are particularly vulnerable to trafficking because of societal norms and a lack of economic opportunities. According to the United States Department of State's "Trafficking in Persons" (TIP) report for the year 2005, the number of people globally trafficked across international borders is between 600,000 and 800,000 per year. But, the accuracy of these figures is difficult to determine given the clandestine nature of trafficking and the high rate of unreported cases. What is clear is that trafficking is a widespread problem. In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the "Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women and Children." To date, more than 110 countries, including the US, have signed and ratified the Protocol.
NCJW supports the elimination of human trafficking and has a long history of opposition to this practice. At the turn of the twentieth century, NCJW spoke out against “white slavery” exploitation and sweatshop labor and provided assistance to young female immigrants arriving alone and without resources. Today, NCJW continues to condemn the trade in human beings that exploits thousands, predominantly women, each year for sexual exploitation, forced labor, and domestic servitude, among other purposes.
NCJW is committed to the survival and security of the State of Israel and the establishment of a just and permanent peace as central to the Jewish people and vital to the interests of the United States. NCJW maintains an office in Israel that serves as a link between the organization and Israeli society, and also carries out a program of action within Israel on a variety of public policy issues -- mirroring NCJW's interests and efforts in the United States. Through its Jerusalem office, NCJW works with coalition partners to promote women's rights, civil rights, tolerance and coexistence, the well being of women, children, and families, and US support for Israel.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that it "will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex" and "guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture...." For Israel, as with all other democracies, the challenge has been to ensure that government policies reflect these commitments. One recent example has been the struggle over sex-segregated public buses initially established to accommodate the beliefs of Ultra-Orthodox Jews, but which are now used across and between several cities, without any alternative public bus service. Another controversy concerns the government's new "hot return" procedure, whereby Israeli security forces immediately send refugees who crossed the border from the Sinai desert into Israel back to Egypt. Many of these refugees are asylum-seekers from war-torn regions in Africa – Darfur, Sudan, the Ivory Coast, Eritrea, and the Congo – who face a real danger if deported.
NCJW strongly supports efforts in Israel to implement the human rights guarantees in its Declaration of Independence and joins in coalitions to that end, as well as funding such efforts where appropriate.
In response to a 2007 challenge by the Israel Religious Action Center to the policy of sex-segregated public buses, the High Court has ordered the Israeli Minister of Transportation to devise a solution to the bus issue. And in August 2007, five Israeli human rights organizations petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice to overturn the government's new "hot return" procedure. NCJW supports both of these efforts.
Since the State of Israel was established in 1948, the United States has rendered crucial support, providing foreign and military aid as well as leadership on the peace process at the international level. US presidents from both parties have long considered the security of Israel to be critical to the strategic interests of the United States and have repeatedly described Israel as America's closest ally in the Middle East.
NCJW supports a secure Israel and the well-being of all its people. NCJW endorses policies and programs that promote peaceful co-existence within Israel and between Israel and its neighbors; diplomatic, economic, and military assistance to Israel by the United States; and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In February 2008, as part of the 2008 foreign aid bill, the United States allocated $2.42 billion in aid to Israel as part of the final year of a 10-year agreement. Israel and the US also recently signed a new 10-year agreement that pledges $30 billion in security assistance to Israel by the US over the next ten years. The United States also continues to work toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians leading to a two-state solution.
Israel follows the social democratic model of most of Europe, offering a broad range of welfare programs such as child allowances, unemployment benefits, disability payments, survivors' benefits, old-age pensions, maternity benefits (including up to three months' paid leave) and long-term care for all elderly persons needing daily assistance, as well as supplementary payments to low-income families and individuals. A number of voluntary agencies, many funded by Jews abroad, contribute significantly to the well-being of those living in Israel. Nevertheless, Israel faces challenges combating poverty and other social ills. One million Israelis – 22 percent of the population – are too poor to buy food regularly or maintain the balanced diet required for them and their children to function properly. Approximately 400,000 Israeli families suffer from "nutritional insecurity" caused by economic distress. For children, the situation is critical. Proper nutrition on a regular basis is essential for their growth, good health, and academic success. And current Israeli legislation falls painfully short of meeting their needs.
NCJW is strongly committed to government policies and expenditures that seek to remedy social ills in Israeli society and strengthen the stability of families. NCJW supports programs in which every individual is treated equitably, every child is cared for equally, and every family has the hope of a strong and stable future.
Thanks to advocacy efforts within Israel and from the international community -- including NCJW-- a daily hot, nutritious meal for every child, from kindergarten through grade 12 is now law, and low-income parents are eligible for total or partial payment exemption on a sliding scale basis.
Women in Israel are guaranteed equal rights by the 1948 Declaration of Independence, and Israel has seen a female prime minister, speaker of the Knesset, and president of the High Court. Nevertheless, challenges remain to ensure equal rights and full civic participation for women. Personal status issues, such as marriage and divorce, are governed by religious and not civil courts -- eliminating the separation of religion and state as such. One of the most contentious examples of these personal status issues is that according to Jewish law, or Halacha, the husband must be the willing, legal initiator of divorce. Women are left powerless in this process and are rendered agunot, or women "chained to a dead marriage."
Some strides for women's empowerment, however, are being made. In 1998, Israel enacted a far-reaching law against sexual harassment, and in 2005, Israel adopted the mandate of UN Resolution 1325 -- a resolution that calls on member states to increase active representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional, and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict.
NCJW seeks to encourage the government and the people of Israel to ensure a future that brings dignity and respect to women and girls, and treats all individuals equally. NCJW firmly supports efforts to ensure the empowerment of women in Israel regarding their own status, as well as their ability to be heard on domestic and international issues, including the full participation of women in efforts to achieve Middle East peace.
Efforts to address the situation of agunot and to implement UN Resolution 1325 are ongoing in Israel.
NCJW monitors and takes action on the judicial nominations process because of the vast power held by the individuals who hold lifetime seats on the federal bench. The federal courts are the final arbiter when it comes to the rights of all Americans, and therefore the composition of these courts — and the nominations process that determines this composition — has the potential to affect every issue NCJW cares about. NCJW believes that the Senate should confirm only those nominees to the federal courts who will uphold fundamental freedoms, including reproductive choice. In 2001, NCJW launched BenchMark: NCJW's Judicial Nominations Campaign to educate, mobilize, and advocate for a federal judiciary that will sustain core constitutional rights and liberties.
The federal courts consist of three tiers: the district courts, also known as trial courts; the circuit courts, which are the courts of appeal; and, the Supreme Court, which has the final say on any lower court decision. All federal judges hold lifetime appointments and must be confirmed by the US Senate.
The United States is divided into 12 circuits, or regions which collectively hear about 30,000 cases per year, including those cases that are appealed from district-level courts. Because so few cases (less than 100) are taken for review by the Supreme Court, federal appeals court judges wield tremendous power. If the Supreme Court turns down an appeal, the decision is left to the federal appeals court and judgments are applied to all the states in the circuit. Since circuit court cases are typically decided by a three judge panel, the individual opinions of each judge on the circuit can significantly impact the outcome of a case.
NCJW believes that those judges with a demonstrated record that reflects their qualifications, and commitment to serving the American people, should be confirmed to lifetime seats on the circuit court. Through the BenchMark campaign, NCJW takes action, in support of nominees who are qualified for service on the court and committed to individual rights and freedoms, and against those nominees who are unfit for the federal judiciary.
The President nominates candidates for the federal judiciary, and the Senate advises and consents on each nomination. When the Senate receives a nomination from the President, it is referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which investigates the nominee's background and qualifications, holds a hearing, and votes to determine if the nomination should move forward to the full Senate for consideration. When a nomination reaches the floor of the Senate, senators who oppose the nominee may decide to debate the nomination indefinitely. This practice of preventing a vote is called a filibuster. It takes 60 votes to end debate (invoke cloture), or conversely, 41 votes to prevent a vote on a nominee. Confirmation itself requires a simple majority of those present and voting — no more than 51.
The filibuster is an important tool to help ensure that the voice of the minority can be heard. Yet some Senators have abused this tool to obstruct judicial nominees purely for obstruction's sake. Many non-controversial nominees, some of whom were eventually confirmed without a single vote of opposition, have languished on the Senate floor for months, some over a year, as a result of tactical, systematic obstruction. A disproportionate number of these nominees are women and minorities. This pattern has resulted in a high number of vacancies on the courts throughout the country at the circuit and district court levels, leaving too many Americans waiting to have their day in court.
The federal district courts are the trial courts of the federal court system. Within limits set by Congress and the Constitution, the district courts have jurisdiction to hear nearly all categories of federal cases, including both civil lawsuits and criminal matters. There are 94 federal judicial districts, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Each judicial district has one or more federal judges. District court judges are appointed for lifetime terms and follow the same confirmation process as circuit court and Supreme Court nominees.
NCJW believes that those judges with a demonstrated record that reflects their qualifications, and commitment to serving the American people, should be confirmed to lifetime seats on the circuit court. Through the BenchMark campaign, NCJW takes action, in support of nominees who are qualified for service on the court and committed to individual rights and freedoms, and against those nominees who are unfit for the federal judiciary.
The United States Supreme Court is the highest of the federal courts and has the final word on appeals from the federal circuit courts. The Supreme Court hears only about 80-100 of the roughly 7,000 cases appealed to it each year. The Supreme Court's nine justices are appointed for lifetime seats. They are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, following the same confirmation process as that for circuit and district court judges.
The Supreme Court is the final arbiter on constitutional issues, including questions of individual and states' rights. Historically, the composition of the court has significantly impacted its decisions with regard to many controversial issues, including abortion, desegregation, voting rights, and employment discrimination, among others.
Historically, NCJW has opposed the confirmation of Supreme Court justices who have not shown a proven record of commitment to fundamental freedoms and supported those nominees whose qualifications showed the depth of their knowledge and understanding of the most critical issues of our day. Since the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion, opponents of reproductive rights have urged the president to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who would overturn that ruling. The composition of the court and the philosophy of its members will impact the future of fundamental freedoms for generations to come.
NCJW was an early supporter of abortion rights and access to the full range of family planning options, and continues to advocate for reproductive health and rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Opponents of these rights are often motivated by their religious beliefs and seek to enshrine those views through legislation and public policy. NCJW believes no one religious belief should be imposed on us all. To do so, threatens religious liberty overall. NCJW is committed to the protection of every woman's right to reproductive choices, including safe and legal abortion, access to contraception, and the elimination of obstacles that limit reproductive freedom.
January 22, 2012 marked the 40th anniversary of the historic Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which affirmed the constitutional right to an abortion. Despite the fact that the majority of Americans support the substance of that Supreme Court decision, the past 40 years have been marked by attacks against women's ability to make personal reproductive health choices. Congress dealt a major blow to a woman's right to abortion when it passed the Hyde Amendment in 1976. This amendment restricted access to abortion by prohibiting Medicaid, the federal health program covering low-income individuals, from paying for abortion services except in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the woman. As a result, low-income women's rights have been restricted by their economic status. Similar amendments have cut off abortion coverage for women in the military, federal workers, and inmates in federal prisons.
Today, a woman's access to a legal abortion has been eroded by legislation at the federal and state level, government policies, and court decisions. The Supreme Court's 2007 ruling on the "partial birth abortion ban" and the aggressive efforts of anti-choice forces contribute to these setbacks by restricting abortion policies. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 19 states enacted 80 abortion-related restrictions in the first half of 2011 alone, breaking a new record of legislating such policies.
As the leading pro-choice Jewish organization, NCJW fights for the protection of every female's right to reproductive choices, including safe and legal abortion, and the elimination of obstacles that limit reproductive freedom. NCJW opposes recent legislative efforts to impede women's reproductive choices.
In May 2011, the House of Representatives approved the so-called No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (HR 3/S 906), legislation introduced by Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS). This proposal takes drastic measures to prevent women from accessing safe and legal abortion services and imposes a single religious view of abortion on us all. Specifically, HR 3 would expand and make permanent the already restrictive ban on federal dollars for abortion services that exists under the "Hyde Amendment." While Hyde currently allows for funding of abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman's life is at risk, HR 3 would actually deny abortion care to certain survivors of rape and incest. Further, the bill goes after private insurance coverage by raising taxes on insurance companies and employers who offer abortion coverage; prohibiting women and families from buying private, abortion-inclusive insurance coverage in state-based exchanges; and effectively banning abortion coverage for low-income, civil servant, and military women who rely on federally provided health services and subsidies.
In October 2011, the House approved another extreme anti-choice bill, the Protect Life Act (HR 358/S 906), introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT). This bill seeks to make abortion-inclusive health coverage unattainable in the new health insurance system, impacting federally-subsidized programs as well as the private health insurance market.
- Act Now
- Visit the NCJW Voices for Reproductive Choices Emergency Action Campaign
- NCJW Testimony Against HR 3
- NCJW Press Release on House Passage of HR 358
The Medicaid program and family planning clinics funded under Title X (ten) of the federal Public Health Service Act provide important family planning services to individuals who would not otherwise have access. Although contraception is not controversial, as virtually all American women — 98 percent — have used a contraceptive at some point in their lives, access cannot be taken for granted.
NCJW endorses and resolves to work for comprehensive, confidential, accessible family planning services for all women, regardless of age or ability to pay. As such, NCJW supports full funding of Title X and expanded Medicaid coverage of family planning services. NCJW also strongly opposes pharmacy refusals, and believes that while diverse religious practices should be accommodated in the workplace, there must be safeguards so that no one religious practice infringes upon the rights of others. Additionally, NCJW is committed to working for equitable health insurance coverage of contraceptives.
As part of the groundbreaking 2010 health reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Congress guaranteed insurance coverage for women-centered preventive health care without out-of-pocket costs. In August 2011, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that contraception must be included in all new insurance plans under this provision. Unfortunately, however, HHS also proposed a “refusal” or “conscience” clause for certain religious institutions, allowing them to opt out of providing affordable contraceptive coverage to workers. NCJW opposes this refusal clause and awaits HHS’ final decision on the issue.
During 2010-2011, Congress and several state legislatures chose to respond to tight budgets and calls from anti-choice activists by proposing or enacting short-sighted legislation to eliminate or drastically limit funding for the Title X national family planning program and undermine America’s largest family planning and preventive health provider, Planned Parenthood. These attacks threaten to restrict access to basic health care for millions of women, particularly those who live in rural or underserved communities. NCJW opposes these related efforts including HR 217, to bar Title X from any provider that offers abortion services; a proposal in HR 1, the House-passed Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act for FY 2011, to eliminate all funding for Title X; and H Amdt 95 to HR 1, a House-passed provision to bar Title X funding from Planned Parenthood.
- Act Now
- Visit NCJW’s Plan A Campaign on Contraceptive Access
- NCJW's Public Comments on Birth Control Coverage and Religious Liberty
- NCJW’s Public Comments Regarding Coverage of Contraceptives as Preventive Services
Access to voluntary family planning increases maternal and child survival, promotes stable communities, and helps prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Yet, there are more than 200 million women around the world who wish to delay or end childbearing but do not have access to modern contraceptives.
NCJW endorses and resolves to work for the protection of every female's right to reproductive choices, including safe and legal abortion, and the elimination of obstacles that limit reproductive freedom. NCJW also supports comprehensive, confidential, accessible family planning and reproductive health services, regardless of age or ability to pay.
In keeping with these priorities, NCJW supports maintaining a strong US commitment to UNFPA (the UN Population Fund) which works in more than 150 countries to improve women and families’ health and equal opportunity, reduce poverty, and ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect. NCJW opposes effort to bar US funding to UNFPA.
NCJW also opposes the harmful Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy. Since 1984, the Global Gag Rule has threatened global women’s access to family planning and related health services by denying foreign non-governmental organizations receiving US international family planning assistance the right to use their own, non-US funds to provide information, referrals, counseling or advocacy related to abortion. In January 2009, President Obama overturned this policy. When this rule was imposed in the past, women’s access to crucial health services was drastically restricted. Countries with large unmet needs for family planning saw clinic closures, condom and contraceptive shortages, and other devastating cutbacks.
NCJW supports the Global Democracy Promotion Act (HR 2639/S 1585), introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and in Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), which would permanently repeal the dangerous Global Gag Rule to ensure it cannot be reinstated by future presidents.
In too many schools, students receive incomplete, medically inaccurate sexuality education. It is critical that science and public health — not religious views or ideology — determine the sex education that young people receive in public schools. In order to make responsible, healthy decisions, young people need — and society has a moral obligation to provide — medically accurate, age-appropriate information about sex and sexuality. Comprehensive sex education teaches that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) but also provides accurate information about contraceptive options so that individuals can make informed and responsible life decisions.
NCJW supports comprehensive, medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education in public schools. NCJW also supports the elimination of federal funding for misleading and ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. As a religiously affiliated organization committed to the separation between religion and state, NCJW is particularly concerned that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, using federal taxpayer dollars, frequently seek to impose one particular religious viewpoint about sex on all students, regardless of their individual religious traditions. In addition, by stressing marriage as the only appropriate context for a healthy sexual relationship, many such programs marginalize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.
In December 2009, President Obama signed into law a fiscal year 2010 omnibus appropriations bill that eliminated all existing funding for harmful abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. The bill also created a new evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention initiative. In addition, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health reform law enacted in 2010, established PREP, the Personal Responsibility Education Program, the only state-grant program of its kind that aims to address the inter-related sex education, prevention, and health needs of adolescents. Unfortunately, the health reform law also allowed funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to continue.
In the 112th Congress, NCJW supported the introduction of the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act. This bill would provide young people with comprehensive sexuality education that is evidence-based; medically-accurate; and developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate, and is inclusive of LGBT students. Comprehensive sex education (as defined in the bill) also recognizes that young people have a right to information necessary to make healthy, responsible decisions about their sexual health. As such, it would ensure that education programs impart information about anatomy and physiology; prevention of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, through abstinence and contraception; and information about healthy relationships, including protection from dating violence, sexual assault, bullying, and harassment. Further, it would establish a grant program for K-12 teacher training, and for comprehensive sex education programs that serve adolescents and students in institutions of higher education.
While accessing reproductive health information and services can be difficult for all women, young women in particular face unique challenges in these pursuits. Lack of accurate information, financial limitations, unreasonable age restrictions, and parental notification and/or consent laws are just some of the barriers that prevent young women from accessing the full range of reproductive health services and information.
NCJW is committed to working for comprehensive, confidential, accessible family planning and reproductive health services, regardless of age or ability to pay. NCJW supports access to emergency contraception (EC) and safe and legal abortion. Further, to delay the onset of sexual intercourse, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase contraceptive and condom use, NCJW believes that young women need to receive comprehensive, medically accurate education about sex and sexuality.
The first amendment to the US Constitution states that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” NCJW believes that religious liberty and the separation of religion and state are constitutional principles that must be protected and preserved in order to maintain a democratic society. Ongoing erosion of the wall that protects the state from religious influence and preserves religious freedom by preventing state interference in religious life, endangers every member of our society, and places religious minority groups, including the Jewish community, in jeopardy. NCJW strongly opposes public displays of religion; public funding for private religious education; the expenditure of public monies to support religious institutions that use the money for proselytizing, discriminating in their hiring policies, or the construction of houses of worship; or sanctioned religious discrimination in any form.
Religious organizations, such as the Jewish Federations and Catholic Charities, have a long history of providing critical social services to individuals in need. Many religious groups have established such tax-exempt nonprofit entities specifically to deliver these services. While clearly allowed to retain their religious identity, all such nonprofits are required under tax laws to be nondiscriminatory in their own employment practices and in who they serve with their programs. But over the last decade, especially during the Bush administration, Congress adopted various so-called "charitable choice" initiatives that allow federal funds to flow directly to synagogues, churches, mosques, and other religious institutions, and not just to their affiliated charitable groups. Congress has also allowed money to go to programs that only serve a single religious group, violate federal civil rights laws in their hiring practices, and/or force religious worship or commitment before providing their services. The direct funding of these programs with tax dollars is a constitutional violation.
Further, during President Bush's administration, the White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives began to award government funds to faith-based organizations to provide social services without the regulation that prevented these civil rights violations. Such regulations had existed and worked for decades. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has not taken a single step to change this policy, despite campaign promises and numerous pleas from advocates of religion-state separation. Instead, President Obama has continued the Bush administration policies throughout his first term.
NCJW believes that government funding of religious institutions threatens the First Amendment by putting the government in the position of endorsing or rejecting religious groups when deciding how to award scarce humans-needs funding. NCJW also vigorously opposes federal funding for faith-based institutions that discriminate in their hiring policies. NCJW believes that religious liberty and the separation of religion and state are constitutional principles that must be protected and preserved in order to maintain a democratic society.
Prayer and readings from the King James Version of the Bible were once commonplace in public classrooms, until Catholic immigrants began to challenge the practice in the mid-19th century. State courts began to rule against the coercion of school-selected prayers and, after many decades, the US Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that "it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government" even if participation was voluntary. A year later the court said that school-sponsored Bible reading and recitation of the Lord's Prayer was also unconstitutional.
Nevertheless, occasional efforts persisted to find ways around the court's ruling, such as having students compose prayers for reading in classrooms, assemblies and over the school public address system. Misinformation about what the court's rulings meant was widespread. As a result, in 1995 the federal government released guidelines on the issue to every public school in the country.
Still, regular violations continue to occur, and cases continue to come before our nation's courts. These violations continue to exclude and isolate children with minority faith identities. NCJW is firmly opposed to allowing public schools to include prayer in any official program, voluntary or otherwise.
Until recent years, the presence of religious symbols on public property — such as the Ten Commandments, statues of religious figures, or nativity scenes — had been viewed by the Supreme Court as a violation of the constitutional bar against government establishment of religion. More and more, the court has allowed such displays, depending on their perceived intent. For example, a display of the Ten Commandments on the lawn of the Texas State Capitol along with other historical statues was accepted, while the posting of the commandments inside a courthouse was not. The court has been similarly ambivalent about the display of nativity scenes on public property.
NCJW believes that religious liberty and the separation of religion and state are constitutional principles that must be protected and preserved in order to maintain our democratic society. As such, NCJW opposes the display of religious symbols — whether they are tablets, statues, or crèches — on public property that should be neutral space without the symbols of any one religious perspective or tradition.
School vouchers are a form of government subsidy given to parents for use toward funding tuition and related expenses in public and private schools, including parochial schools. Effectively, school vouchers remove tax dollars from the public school system by providing parents with a choice of where to send their children to school. Very often, those tax dollars go directly to fund a religious school and their larger religious institution.
Voucher programs have taken shape as tuition vouchers, tuition tax credits, textbook and transportation subsidies, or other forms of assistance. School voucher recipients are able to choose how they spend these subsidies and many select parochial schools due to the typically high tuitions at secular private schools that vouchers would not cover. Parochial schools selected by parents often incorporate sectarian doctrines into most aspects of their curriculum and activities. In addition, children may be refused admission into these schools on grounds of religion, gender, academic ability, or family income. In hiring practices, religious schools often consider church membership and theological viewpoint. Some schools have even fired teachers for getting a divorce, marrying outside the faith, or expressing opinions on public issues contradictory to the denomination's viewpoint. NCJW believes that these institutions have the legal right to do these things with their private dollars, but when they do them with the thousands of dollars provided by tax payer-funded vouchers, they violate the law.
NCJW believes that religious liberty and the separation of religion and state are constitutional principles that must be protected and preserved in order to maintain our democratic society. NCJW opposes school vouchers because the use of school vouchers for parochial schools is tantamount to the government funding sectarian education and discrimination in hiring and admissions practices. When the government funds religious institutions and subsidizes religious instruction by diverting public money, it violates the constitutional mandated separation between religion and state — as well as removing much-needed public funds from already cash-strapped public school systems.
Most battles over school vouchers are being waged on the local and state levels. But increasingly, attempts are being made to provide funding for vouchers in federal legislation. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is a magnet for such programs, despite the fact that the bill aims to fund and improve public education.
In 2004 Congress mandated a school voucher program for Washington, DC. With an annual budget of $15 million, the DC voucher program provided 1,900 vouchers worth up to $7,500 each for students to attend religious and other private schools in the nation's capital. When the program was set to expire in 2009, studies showed that it did not improve educational achievement or student happiness, while the majority of its funds were funneled into religious private schools. The program expired, yet the battle over this program has resurfaced again and again on budget and other negotiations. NCJW supports the full repeal of the DC school voucher program and opposes any new voucher programs, believing that American tax dollars must not be used to fund religious organizations.
Millions of women across the country face significant challenges maintaining a safe and secure environment for themselves and their families. Since its founding, NCJW has fought to protect the rights and well-being of women, children, and families. Ongoing advocacy efforts include promoting policies that would reduce poverty and provide individuals and families at all levels of need with access to high quality, affordable health care, child care, and education. Further, NCJW works toward the elimination of and protection from all forms of harassment, violence, and abuse.
Child Care is a critical support for working families and often makes the difference between dependence and self-sufficiency for low-income women who are single heads of households. As welfare reform was passed in 1996, one of the core promises made was that support would be provided to help women work their way out of poverty and stay off of government assistance. A critical component to getting and keeping a job is access to quality and affordable child care. Unfortunately, the promise of this form of support for low-income working women has not been fulfilled. The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) -- the main federal funding source for child care programs -- has received the same funding level since 2002, translating into hundreds of thousands of child-care slots being lost and reduced quality for children still in the program. In addition, while child care providers perform incredibly important work, they are not adequately compensated, a fact that contributes to a high turnover rate in this field. Women make up 97 percent of the child care workforce; and, in 2006, the national average wage for a child care worker was $9.05 per hour or $18,820 annually, a wage that is not far above the federal poverty line for a mother with two children.
NCJW works for quality, comprehensive child care, early childhood programs, and school-age programs that are affordable and accessible for all. NCJW is also committed to working for employment laws, policies, and practices that provide equal pay for work of comparable worth. As such, NCJW continues to advocate for increased funding for child care, including money for improving the quality of the programs and workforce development.
For many single-headed families, receiving child support payments from a non-custodial parent on a regular basis is key to maintaining economic security. Since 1975, the federal government has provided states with funding to operate a child support program to help ensure such needs are met. These state services are available to families of all income levels; however, most of the families in the program are low- and moderate-income: 46% are families that have left welfare, 16% are current recipients of public assistance, and the vast majority are headed by single-mothers. Currently, child support programs serve more than 17 million children. However, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 cut federal funding for child support enforcement -- cuts that will cost families billions of dollars in uncollected child support.
The National Council of Jewish Women believes that human services must be coordinated, comprehensive, accessible, and sufficiently funded. Further, NCJW is dedicated to ensuring that all children are protected and that women have the resources they need to meet both their work and family responsibilities. As such, NCJW believes it is critical that Congress restore cuts to the child support program.
One of the most important predictors of a child’s health is whether or not he/she has insurance coverage. Children with health insurance are more likely to receive regular health care that includes preventive care, a practice that limits the costs associated with and care for serious medical problems down the line. In 1997, Congress enacted the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to increase coverage for low-income children. The SCHIP program gave states $40 billion over 10 years to provide health coverage for children who live in families that earned too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private health insurance. By all accounts, SCHIP is a successful program, reducing the number of children without health insurance by 30 percent. The benefits are obvious: children who have access to regular health care are healthier and do better in school than those who do not. However, despite the success of the program, there are still more than eight million children currently without health insurance.
NCJW is committed to ensuring that quality, comprehensive, nondiscriminatory healthcare coverage and services are accessible and affordable for all. Further, NCJW believes there is no better investment than to invest in the health and well-being of America’s children. As such, NCJW is committed to seeing the children’s health care receive the attention and financial commitment it deserves.
On February 4, 2009, President Obama signed in law the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. In doing so, he added 4.1 million low-income children, for a total of 11 million, to the rolls of the insured. In addition, the law extends coverage to pregnant women and children of legal immigrants and increases funding for state outreach efforts to enroll more children.
Intimate partner violence, sexual assault, harassment, and stalking affect millions of Americans. The CDC estimates that 12 million Americans experienced domestic violence in 2010 alone. In their lifetimes, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience a physical or sexual assault by a current or former intimate partner; 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will experience an attempted or completed rape; and 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men will be stalked. These statistics are even higher for members of transgender and gender-queer communities. In an effort to address these pervasive issues, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994. VAWA created the first federal legislation that acknowledged domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes and provided federal resources to encourage community-coordinated responses to this violence. VAWA was reauthorized in 2000, 2005, and 2013, expanding protections for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), immigrant, Native American, and youth victims and providing funding for key services around the country. NCJW’s VAWA 2013 factsheet outlines these key expansions.
According to the National Network to End Domestic violence, in a single day domestic violence programs served almost 65,000 adults and children in the United States in 2012. However, a significant number of requests -- more than 10,000 -- went unmet because domestic violence agencies lacked the funding and staff to meet the demand. Internationally, the threat of gender-based violence is even more staggering: experts estimate that up to one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in their lifetimes, with rates reaching 70 percent in some countries.
Throughout its history, NCJW has worked for the elimination of, and protection from, all forms of harassment, violence, abuse, and exploitation against women. NCJW was active in the coalition supporting the original enactment of the Violence Against Women Act. Today, NCJW works to ensure that VAWA’s promise is fulfilled. In March 2010 NCJW launched Higher Ground: NCJW's Domestic Violence Campaign. Higher Ground is a national effort to end domestic violence and increase survivors’ autonomy by improving the economic status of women. Grounded in the understanding that economic security is critical to women’s safety, Higher Ground educates and mobilizes advocates, community members, and decision-makers to promote progressive policy solutions that champion economic justice.
NCJW’s policy advocacy work on ending gender-based violence extends beyond VAWA. NCJW has recently increased its presence in coalitions fighting military sexual assault (MSA). MSA includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape experienced by active duty and reserve members of the armed forces. MSA is endemic in military culture, and thousands of service members, including women and men, are assaulted each year. NCJW supports measures to ensure accountability for perpetrators, resources and justice for survivors, and increased emphasis on prevention at all ranks.
While state and local governments determine most education policy, the federal government is charged with the important role of providing resources and guidelines to help ensure that all children -- including low-income children, children with mental and physical disabilities, and children in both rural and urban school districts -- have equal access to a quality education in public schools.
NCJW supports comprehensive services and policies that enable all children to succeed in school. NCJW believes that an educated and informed public is fundamental to a democratic society. As such, NCJW is committed to ensuring that every child has access to free, quality public education, and that public funds are utilized for public schools only.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the primary federal law authorizing elementary and secondary public education in the US, now must be reauthorized by Congress. Congress is likely to amend significant portions of this law, including provisions on increased flexibility for states and schools, accountability measures, authorized funding levels, and support for teachers.
The United States has higher rates of gun violence than any other developed nation in the world. Last year, over 30,000 individuals were killed by gun violence. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that in 2000, there were 52,447 incidents of violence involving guns and 23,237 accidental non-fatal gunshot injuries in the United States. Firearms and automatic weapons have been used in school shootings, murders, and domestic violence. The proliferation of, and easy access to, guns has resulted in what some consider an epidemic of gun violence. This epidemic disproportionately impacts communities of color, and specifically young men of color. The United States has arguably the most lax gun laws in the developed world, largely due to the influence and power of groups like the National Rifle Association that comprise the gun lobby.
NCJW believes that the nation’s laws and policies should restrict and regulate guns to prevent gun violence. NCJW supports limiting the sale and distribution of firearms and the proliferation of weapons, in order to reduce the number of lives cut short and families destroyed by readily available firearms in the hands of violent perpetrators.
The National Instant Check System (NICS), designed to ensure criminal and psychological background checks for individuals seeking to purchase guns, has been in place since November 1998. While the creation of this system was a step in the right direction, the system’s flaws have had deadly consequences -- as exemplified by the Virginia Tech massacre, in which a mentally disturbed student, who was able to purchase guns without detection by NICS, killed 32 people and wounded many others in a school shooting rampage in April 2007. The court order that should have prevented the shooter from purchasing a gun was not reported to NICS. On December 19, 2007, Congress passed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 (HR 2640) to strengthen the system. Signed into law on January 8, 2008, this legislation aims to ensure that the NICS system is more complete and includes all court orders, documents, and information.
The federal law banning the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons, known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, was passed as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. President Clinton signed it into law that year. Despite his stated commitment to keep assault weapons off the streets, and the proven efficacy of the ban, President Bush and Congress allowed the law to sunset in September of 2004. The ban has yet to be renewed. NCJW supports the renewal of the assault weapons ban and continues to advocate on its behalf.
On June 26th, Supreme Court ruled in Heller v. DC, that a Washington, DC, handgun ban was unconstitutional. This decision marked the first time in legal history that the Second Amendment was used to uphold the individual right to bear arms. Following the ruling, Congressional leaders introduced dangerous legislation that far exceeded the requirements of the court's decision. The Second Amendment Enforcement Act, introduced by Rep. Travis Childers (D-MS), would repeal registration requirements, allow trafficking of guns from Maryland and Virginia, repeal all age restrictions to purchase firearms, legalize military-style assault weapons, and deprive the DC government of the right to create common-sense gun laws that make sense for that city. On September 17, Childers' bill passed the House by a vote of 268-152 as an amendment to the Capital Safety and Security Act (HR 6842). Though many senators seeking endorsements and support from pro-gun advocates have urged their leaders to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, the Senate did not vote on this legislation before the 110th Congress adjourned.
In 2006, approximately 47 million Americans -- including nearly 9 million children -- went without health insurance. Individuals without health insurance typically forgo primary and preventive health care services. As a result, they tend to get care later -- if at all -- and become sicker than their insured counterparts. Further, the cost of health care is rising so significantly that even individuals who are covered are either spending more than they can afford or are forced to purchase less coverage than they need. For minorities, the health care landscape is even worse. Research demonstrates that minorities are in poorer health, experience more significant problems accessing care, are more likely to be uninsured, and often receive lower quality health care than other Americans.
NCJW, recognizing that the health of the nation -- its economy, security, and overall well-being -- depends on the health of all of its people, supports quality, comprehensive, confidential, nondiscriminatory health care coverage and services that are affordable and accessible for all. NCJW seeks a national health care plan that provides universal access to comprehensive care for all that covers, among other health concerns, the full range of reproductive health care services and mental health, and emphasizes prevention.
In March 2011, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the groundbreaking new health care law. The ACA is a huge step forward for women's health care. For example, it ends discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and bars lifetime caps on coverage. It ensures improved drug coverage for seniors and the inclusion of children on their parents’ polices until age 26. It expands Medicaid, provides subsidies for individuals buying insurance, and gives tax credits to small businesses that provide coverage for their employees. It will create new insurance exchanges where the uninsured can buy affordable policies. Unfortunately, it also included to restrictions on access to abortion coverage.
Scientific research and improvements in medical practice can profoundly improve longevity and quality of life for millions of people. But, these gains do not come without challenges. Starting in fiscal year 1999, Congress committed to doubling funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over five years. Making good on that promise signaled a firm belief that investing in biomedical research will improve health outcomes. Today, almost all debates about health care include a discussion of the benefits and challenges faced by advances in science and medical technology. For example, the Human Genome Project, which gave scientists the ability to read nature's complete genetic blueprint for building a human being, improved the understanding of how a person's genetic makeup impacts their health and helps doctors predict individual health outcomes. However, that new information also opened the door to genetic discrimination. Likewise, while researchers believe that embryonic stem cells have broad healing capabilities -- they may be able to reverse muscle damage incurred from a heart attack by generating new muscle cells or replace the specialized dopamine-producing brain cells in a patient with Parkinson’s disease -- to date, they have be unable to conduct embryonic stem cell research in earnest. Instead, ideological debates about the morality of using such cells taking place in US Congress and state houses across the country have halted this groundbreaking research.
NCJW has resolved to work for research and funding for advances in medicine. As such, NCJW wants the best doctors and scientists in the world to have the ability to conduct the research they believe is most critical. Further, NCJW is committed to ensuring that no new advances in medicine are used to discriminate or deny any individual health care benefits.
On March 9, 2009, President Obama reversed Bush Administration restrictions on federally funded stem cell research. At the same time, the president also issued a directive that public policy be based on sound science and that scientific advisers be appointed based on their expertise -- not their politics or ideology. NCJW supports this executive order and will work hard to ensure that Congress follows the president's lead by providing adequate federal funding for stem cell research.
Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 and over, for some younger people with disabilities, and for people with end-stage kidney disease. More than 57 percent of those enrolled in Medicare are women. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, poverty rates are substantially higher among women on Medicare than men: more than half of all female Medicare beneficiaries live on income below twice the poverty rate.
Medicaid is the nation's major public health insurance program for low-income Americans, including families, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Three-quarters of the adult Medicaid population are women. Women are twice as likely as men to qualify for the program, largely because women are poorer and less likely to get health insurance through their jobs when they are employed. Medicaid serves one-third of all poor women, is the largest source of health insurance for single mothers, and pays for 40 percent of all births in the US. Together, Medicare and Medicaid provide health care for nearly 50 million elderly, low-income, and disabled women. As such, women are disproportionately affected by cuts to these programs or the implementation of regulations that erode coverage or the effectiveness of the programs.
NCJW believes that a democratic society must fulfill its obligation to provide for the needs of those unable to provide for themselves. NCJW supports quality, comprehensive, nondiscriminatory health-care coverage and services. As such, NCJW opposes cuts in critical health services for those in need. Congress and the President should expand eligibility, broaden the range of available and guaranteed services, and work to enroll more people in Medicare and Medicaid.
Millions of people in the US suffer from mental health disorders that range from serious diseases like schizophrenia and clinical depression to less severe forms of mental illness. In a given year, roughly one in five -- or approximately 29 million -- women have a diagnosable mental illness. And, while mental illnesses can be just as debilitating as physical health problems, many insurance companies do not provide coverage for these conditions that is comparable to the coverage they offer for physical ailments. Millions of Americans with or at risk of mental health or substance use disorders continue to experience health insurance discrimination because federal law still allows arbitrary barriers on coverage of needed services. Despite widespread support, legislation that would close the loopholes in the existing partial parity law has been blocked in every Congress since 1999.
The National Council of Jewish Women is dedicated to ensuring that all individuals have access to quality comprehensive, nondiscriminatory health care coverage and services -- for both mental and physical health -- that are affordable and accessible for all. As such, NCJW is committed to seeing mental health and addiction services achieve full parity with other health care services.
In 2008, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act became law, aiming to provide parity in the private insurance market for mental health and addiction services.