When I look at the proposed Illinois and federal budgets, I can't help but see how many of the cuts will have a disproportionate impact on women and girls.
The White House report Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being condenses what women's advocates have been saying for decades: though women have come far, major cuts--at any government level--to programs that help women and their families be safer, healthier and more financially stable would be a major roadblock. Yet that's exactly what federal and state budget proposals would do.
On Feb. 19, the House of Representatives passed the dismal H.R. 1, proposing myriad cuts on the backs of women and girls. What is the House saying when this is its first bill, focused on slashing health care, nutrition programs, workforce development, education and housing? It's not exactly subtle when a bill zeroes out Title X family planning dollars and specifically forbids funding to any Planned Parenthood for any purpose--which one out of every five U.S. women will someday visit for health services and information. As Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois, recently said on WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight, these health cuts are "penny wise and dollar foolish."
Major cuts to college scholarships and job training are put off thanks to a two-week continuing resolution, but as Women Employed reminds us, this ends March 18--and without these programs, women can't access better jobs and degrees that will help them succeed. Anne Ladky, Women Employed's executive director, says, "The drastic budget cuts being proposed by Republican members of Congress would reverse women's gains by slashing funds for child care, Head Start, Pell Grants and job training. It's vital for women to speak out against these cuts"--which you can do through Women Employed's action alert.
Illinois State Budget
In Illinois, the Department of Human Services (DHS) plans big cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year as well as for 2012. Many cuts would fall on "community health and prevention" services for teen parents, family planning, sexual assault and domestic violence. The budget also targets the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Notice a trend with these programs? I do: Women are the majority of people who need these services, as well as the majority of employees in these departments.
Yes, Illinois has to reform its budget, says Wendy Pollack, director of the Women's Law and Policy Project at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, but "information about the social and economic well-being of women must guide our priorities," she says. "The TANF program prevents the poorest among us from falling into even deeper poverty, and funding for domestic and sexual violence services enables women to live free from violence."
Child care cuts put "low-income young mothers... in the crosshairs," says Maria Whelan, president of Illinois Action for Children. Proposed changes include reducing parents' eligibility by income and their enrollment in other programs, increasing parent co-pays, stopping intake and capping enrollment. The harm goes farther than individual families, she says: "Simply put, every mother who cannot go to work because of a lack of child care access is a potential consumer that cannot put money back into our state's economy, and have little hope for economic independence."
The silver lining is that these cuts are still on the bargaining table. When we speak up, we can prevent drastic cuts that would set women back decades, if not centuries. I urge you to call your state legislators today and tell them you reject these cuts as a stopgap solution to long-term inequalities that women face. You can find your representative and senator at the Illinois State Board of Elections website.
Follow K. Sujata on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ChiFdn4Women