Next Tuesday, the nation will mark Equal Pay Day – the annual shameful reminder that women must wait nearly four months into the new year to earn as much as men earned the previous year. This wage gap is real – women continue to make only about 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and the numbers for women of color are worse.

It cannot be dismissed as the result of women’s choices in career and family matters. And the consequences of these pay disparities are profound and far reaching, costing women and their families thousands of dollars each year while they are working and thousands in retirement income when they leave the workforce.

Unfortunately, current law is simply inadequate to address the wage gap. While Congress intended to remedy the “serious and endemic problement.

Congress has an opportunity to address these shortcomings by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act, which would strengthen existing laws and require the government to step up to its responsibility to prevent and address pay disparities. Enactment of these bills is critical to ensure that women have the tools necessary to achieve the pay equity that has too long been denied them.

It is long past time for Congress to act; the women of the country deserve no less.