A few weeks ago, I ran into a woman at my local grocery store.  She had a cart full of food and a hand full of coupons.  We stood there in the aisle and visited for about 15 minutes. 

In that time, we talked about energy regulations and how high her heating bill was getting this winter.  We talked about the price of food and the importance of the Farm Bill.  We talked about how her family needed lower gas prices and higher-paying jobs.  We talked about the issues that impact her family every day and what I was doing in Congress to address them.

At a time when women are increasingly involved in the workforce, our political system and our family’s decision-making process, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t long ago when neither the woman I met in the grocery store nor I could vote.  That didn’t happen until 1920.  This March we celebrate women’s history month.  It’s a month to reflect on the strides women have taken toward political and social equality as well as a time to look forward and figure out where we need to do more. 

One of the most iconic signs of women’s civil rights is Rosie the Riveter, who stands tall with her arm flexed in a blue-collared shirt.  Rosie began to pave a way for millions of women to enter the workforce. 

South Dakota has the highest rate of working mothers in the country at 80 percent.  Analysts suggest that one of the reasons for this is shorter commute times.  Shorter commutes give both men and women more flexibility in their schedule.  Last year, I joined the House in passing the Working Families Flexibility Act, which would make balancing the demands of family, personal responsibilities and the workforce a little easier by giving employees the opportunity to choose between taking overtime pay or receiving more paid time off.  Unfortunately, this bill has not been taken up in the Senate.

One of the things I hear about most from South Dakota women is in regards to the Affordable Care Act.  Women and men alike want to be able to make their family’s healthcare decisions, but instead, many have been forced into a health plan they don’t want with features they don’t need and at a cost that is often unaffordable.

Under the current law, Americans who don’t purchase the government-approved policies would face a fine of $95 in 2014.  Next year, that fine would increase to $325.  In early March, I helped pass the Simple Fairness Act in the House, which would reduce that penalty to $0, saving Americans money and giving them more flexibility to make their own healthcare decisions – at least for one more year.  The Obama administration already extended this benefit to businesses.  Our families deserve the same.

Women have conquered many problems throughout our nation’s history.  We fought for and won the right to vote.  We’ve made our mark in the American workforce.  We’ve won seats and even leadership positions in Congress. 

Today, we’re leaning in on healthcare, workplace flexibility, sex trafficking, school lunch reform, government spending and more because it matters to our families and our ways of life.  We’re leaning in on all the issues I spoke about with that woman in the grocery store.

I am blessed with more opportunities than my mother had and I am committed to making sure my daughters have more opportunities than I ever will.  History shows we’ve made progress, but we still have a long ways to go.

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