The Ascend Fund
Moms Leading the Way
This Mother’s Day, we’re wishing for gender parity, not just flowers. Because as we always say at The Ascend Fund, gender parity isn’t just what’s right, it is what’s good for our democracy. When elected, women in general, and specifically moms, leverage their personal experience to pass legislation to improve the lives of women, children, and families. Across state legislators and in Congress, women and moms are introducing and passing legislation to protect and build a pathway to public office for moms by combatting the maternal mortality crisis and breaking down systemic barriers moms face while running for office.
Combatting Maternal Mortality
The maternal mortality rate in the United States is nearly three times that of other high-income countries. Worse yet, the maternal mortality rate increased significantly in 2021, with 1,205 maternal deaths in 2021, compared to 861 in 2020 and 754 in 2019. Black women are particularly at risk, with 69.9 deaths per 100,000 births, compared to 26.6 deaths per 100,000 white women births.
Federal and state legislators have introduced numerous bills to combat this epidemic, with mixed results. In states such as Texas and Mississippi, legislation to protect moms has failed year after year, putting millions of moms at risk. In light of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, more women will be forced to carry a pregnancy, putting them at significant risk. There are, however, glimmers of hope as federal legislation to protect Black mothers has gained steam and state legislation has made progress in North Carolina and New York.
Federal Momnibus Package
Congresswoman Lauren Underwood of Illinois, a Vote Run Lead and Running Start alumnae and former nurse, introduced the landmark Momnibus Act of 2021 – a comprehensive package of bills to combat Black women’s maternal mortality, including addressing social determinants of maternal health, diversifying the nursing workforce, and advancing maternal health research.
As a nurse herself, Congresswoman Underwood saw firsthand the disastrous disparities Black mothers face and she has been a national leader in combatting maternal mortality. One bill of the package, which provides $15 million for maternal care for veterans, was signed into law by President Biden in 2021. The rest of the package has yet to pass, but Congresswoman Underwood plans to reintroduce the package this session in partnership with the Black Maternal Health Caucus, which she founded with Congresswoman Alma Adams of North Carolina.
Speaking about her reasoning for introducing Momnibus, Congresswoman Underwood said,
“By passing the Momnibus and making these critical investments — $3 billion in our nation’s maternal health crisis — it improves the quality of care for everybody. This is something that helps us all, and also ends the severity that for decades has been just cruelly taking the lives of Black moms in America.” 
In North Carolina, a group of women legislators--including two women trained by Ascend’s partners, Representative Julie von Haefen, a Vote Run Lead alum, and Vernetta Alston, a LGBTQ+ Victory Institute alum--have introduced the MOMnibus Act, modeled after Rep. Lauren Underwood’s federal Momnibus package. The bill, which has not yet passed either chamber of the legislature, includes expansions to Medicare and requires all healthcare providers to undergo implicit bias training to improve the treatment of pregnant Black women. Legislators are confident that some, if not all, of the provisions will pass in the 2023-2024 session.
Speaking about the introduction of the Act, Senator Natalie Murdock, one of the sponsors, said,
"Unfortunately, far too many Black women may have had a near-death experience during birth or has had a friend or family member that almost lost their lives. Maternal health outcomes in North Carolina need to improve." 
In New York, Senator Lea Webb, a Vote Run Lead alumna, has introduced and passed legislation through the State Senate to protect pregnant women and reduce maternal mortality by investing in doula care and establishing a doula directory for low-income New Yorkers, enhancing health assessments, and preventing predatory insurance fees that disincentivize care. The package of bills has not yet passed the Assembly, but the bills have bipartisan support and are expected to pass this year, or when the legislature reconvenes in January 2024. Speaking about the legislation, Senator Webb said,
“My legislation makes sure that this issue is given full consideration with regard to access to reproductive and maternal health issues that are integral to the health and safety of more than half of our state’s population - Women and their families.” 
Making it Easier for Moms to Run
As detailed in our column, Vote for Mom, running for office as a mom with young children is not easy. Moms face financial hardships, increased scrutiny from voters and the media, and institutional barriers while serving in office. Our partner, the Vote Mama Foundation, is committed to breaking down the financial barriers moms face while running for office by permitting candidates to use their campaign funds to pay for childcare while campaigning. Because of Vote Mama’s work, candidates running in 28 states can now use campaign funds for childcare and they are committed to codifying this in all 50 states.
In Michigan, Senator Stephanie Chang, a New American Leaders alumna and Representative Rachel Hood, introduced legislation this year to permit candidates running for office in Michigan to use their campaign funds to pay for childcare and dependent care. The bills had both been introduced last year but were never passed under the Republican leadership. Now that Democrats hold a majority in both chambers of the legislature, Senator Chang and Representative Hood are optimistic that the bill could pass this session.
Speaking about her experience running for office as a mom, Senator Chang said,
“Knowing how vigorous my first campaign was, and as someone who had never ran for office before that, you have to work really hard. I think [childcare costs] can be a barrier for people, and they’ll choose not to run for office. If we can get this passed, I think it might actually encourage more people to realize that they can actually do this and run office for office.” 
The best gift this Mother’s Day is gender parity in politics and more moms in elected office. In addition to flowers and chocolates, we encourage you to support the organizations that are making it easier for moms to run – and win, such as Vote Mama, Vote Run Lead, New American Leaders, and LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, so that we have more leaders who will fight to combat maternal mortality and the barriers moms face when running for office.
 Center for Disease Control and Prevention - Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2021  The Hill - Lawmakers push to end maternal health crisis  Fayetteville Observer - NC Momnibus Bill aims to tackle Black maternal health in the state, rural communities  New York State Senate - Senate Advances Legislation to Protect Maternal Health and Support Reproductive Care  The Gander - New Bills to Help Michigan Moms With Child Care—So They Can Run for Office