People Making a Difference: Senator Mikulski


March 5, 2015

[Lecia Imbery also contributed to this post.]
Sen Barbara Mikulski DNC2

“Because it’s always been about you, never about me. That’s what it takes to be a good senator by my expectations and by my standards.” –Sen. Barbara Mikulski

Earlier this week, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) announced that she will not run for reelection in 2016. That’s a loss for many of us – certainly for the people of Maryland, whom she represents, but also for the greater human needs community.

For the past 28 years in the Senate, and for 10 years prior to that in the House, Sen. Mikulski has been a tireless, feisty advocate for middle- and low- income people and families in Maryland and across the nation. As chair and now the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, she insisted on returning to full-year funding for domestic programs, setting priorities based on current needs rather than simply continuing prior levels or making across-the-board cuts.

For many years, she has been the lead Senate sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work. Last year, she sponsored the bipartisan legislation that reauthorized the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the primary source of federal funding for helping low-income families pay for child care, for the first time since 1996. She made sure the Affordable Care Act covered mammograms and any other preventative health services for women for free.

Sen. Mikulski has a long list of “firsts”: first Democratic woman Senator elected in her own right (she was one of only two women Senators when she took office in 1987), first female Democrat to serve in both chambers of Congress, first woman to be elevated to a leadership post and first to chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. She is both the longest-serving female Senator in U.S. history and the longest-serving female in all of Congress, and she serves as the unofficial “dean” of women Senators from both parties. She was often known to say “I’m a believer in coalitions,” and her dedication, great work, and straightforward approach earned her the respect and trust of her Senate colleagues and House counterparts from both sides of the aisle.

Both personally and professionally, we are saddened by the news of Sen. Mikulski’s retirement. Lecia Imbery, CHN’s Senior Policy Writer, had the honor of meeting her several years ago when she worked for AAUW, a member of the Coalition on Human Needs. Sen. Mikulski was the chief Senate sponsor of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (the first bill signed into law by President Obama), which AAUW strongly supported. Says Lecia: “Personally, she seemed like an incredible woman and someone I wish I knew better. Professionally, as an advocate for those often left behind by Congress, I’ll miss her passion and leadership on critical issues once she retires.”

Senator Mikulski spoke in a 2013 CHN webinar, “End the Government Shutdown; Stop the Economic Meltdown,” to help hundreds of activists nationwide understand the damaging consequences of the federal government shutdown at the time and to encourage people to speak out publicly and let their representatives know they wanted the harm to stop. She acted once again on her belief in coalitions, and helped make ours stronger. Senator Mikulski always makes her concerns about regular working people, children, and seniors paramount. She fights for every last dime that can help people afford housing, get enough food, and care for their children. Most may not know it, but millions of people owe her a lot.

You might think it was “easy” for Sen. Mikulski to be someone who made a difference in the lives of many; after all, she’s a powerful Senator. But this powerful Senator is also a former social worker and community activist. She was making a difference long before she set foot in the halls of Congress.

Writing about Sen. Mikulski got us thinking about other people who are making a difference in people’s lives. We previously highlighted Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and recent recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius grant,” in this guest blog by Andrew Yarrow. But we know there are many, many more who are deserving of our admiration because of the work they’re doing for low- and middle- income workers and their families.

If you know someone who is making a difference in your community and deserves to be highlighted in a future blog post – a service provider, a faith leader, a community leader, or even a Senator, let us know via the comments section below or by emailing Lecia at She’ll follow up with you for more information on your nominee.


[Photo Credit: Democratic National Convention]

Budget and Appropriations
child care
People Making a Difference
Poverty and Income
Senator Mikulski
Social Services