This is an opinion piece from Kim Holt Cochran, Vice President, External Affairs. It originally appeared in the Birmingham Business Journal Guest Notebook.

While running errands in the last few weeks, I’ve been delighted to see the Mother’s Day displays around town. Filled with cards, sweet treats, and of course, flower arrangements, they all made me smile. But the more I thought about it, these gifts suddenly seemed like an insufficient way to show affection and appreciation for the moms and mother figures we love so much.

As a mom and the Vice President of External Affairs for The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham—Alabama’s first and only foundation focused on building gender equity—I have the privilege of working to accelerate change for women. Of course, not all women are mothers, but the health and well-being of mothers and infants is a clear indicator of how social and economic systems are thriving.

By this measure, Alabama is just not working, especially for moms.

For example, consider the following statistics from The Women’s Fund’s Status of Women in Alabama (2020) report:

  • Pregnancy can be a death sentence: Alabama’s maternal mortality rate is the third highest in the country.
  • Basic needs sometimes go unmet: Two out of three (66.9%) single mothers with children under 18 experience poverty.
  • Child care is unaffordable: Alabama moms pay an average of $5,858 on infant child care, which is 17% of women’s median annual income.

Adding to this dismal picture for Alabama moms, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act died in the House Judiciary Committee in the last week of April. One of The Women’s Fund’s priority bills in our 2021 Agenda for Women, this legislation provided common sense guidelines to employers to help keep their pregnant employees working safely. Accommodations could include access to a stool, an extra bathroom break, or avoiding heavy lifting until after the baby’s birth. While it may seem inconsequential to accommodate working women who are pregnant, the cost of inaction can be high for both families and businesses, including poor health outcomes for women and their babies, financial crises for families if a mom has to quit, and a high cost for an employer who has to hire and train someone new.

Unfortunately, lawmakers missed this chance to stand up for moms.

But the 2021 Legislative Session isn’t over yet, and lawmakers have another opportunity to step up for women, especially mothers, by expanding Medicaid.

In fall of 2020, after the legislature approved full funding for the state’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee (MMRC), the committee presented its first report on maternal deaths and found that 70% could have been prevented. The Maternal Mortality Review Committee also recommended that the state expand Medicaid to “allow women to receive needed healthcare before, during, and after pregnancies.” Not only could Medicaid expansion transform the health of Alabama by providing health insurance to an additional 152,000 women (it already covers 51% of births), but it could also transform the state’s economy. Medicaid expansion-related economic activity could generate $446 million in new state tax revenues over four years and save $316 million in current state health program costs.

A state investment in child care is also a top focus of The Women’s Fund’s legislative agenda and on Friday, May 14, we will convene hundreds of business, community, and state leaders for Clearing the Path, a virtual conversation about quality child care as critical infrastructure for a stronger, more inclusive workforce and economy.

More than 60% of employed Alabama mothers have young children and more than 74% of Alabama women are breadwinners. Growing access to child care and health care—critical supports that allow mothers and women to join and remain in the workforce—is not only good for women and our state’s economy but for every hard-working Alabamian.

So, after you’ve picked out the perfect Mother’s Day gift and card, I hope you’ll do one more thing for moms across the state: join us. Contact your lawmakers about issues that strengthen Alabama by keeping moms healthy and removing barriers for women in the workforce.

Moms deserve more. Let’s give the gift of equity this Mother’s Day.

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