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State Budget Needs a "Rendezvous" With Women's Reality, Too

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Illinois Governor Quinn's proposed 2013 budget plan, what he calls his "most difficult" budget yet, focuses on the big-dollar-sign issues of Medicaid, state pensions and corporate tax loopholes.

While I applaud the governor's proposed increases to MAP grants for low-income students, early childhood education and veterans programs, all three very important issues to women and their families during this recession, this "rendezvous with reality" needs to make one more appointment: with women and girls.

To prevent women from bearing an unfair burden of cuts and closures, community-based human services cannot be put on the chopping block. Illinois Partners for Human Services estimates at least $600 million in reductions in the 2013 budget to the departments overseeing human services, children and family services, and public health. These cuts follow on the heels of an 18-percent, $693-million cut last year, and $4.5 billion is owed in back bills to state providers.

Women are overrepresented in the rolls of these agencies, both on the client and the employee side. How can we justify cuts to emergency care for victims of domestic and sexual violence, substance abuse programs that help women stay out of prison and keep their families whole, and assistance for young mothers living in poverty?

Ralph Martire, president of the bipartisan think-tank Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (which Chicago Foundation for Women has funded in the past), noted on WTTW's Chicago Tonight on February 22 that Illinois ranks 43rd out of all U.S. states for the percentage of our GDP spent on public services, despite having the fifth largest population.

As a funder in the private sector, I know that philanthropy can't make up the difference. We are just a flea on the elephant of government funding. As such, it's our job to be a pest. As Mr. Martire said, "We are cutting [human services] consistently and frankly we cannot cut our way out of this problem." A focus on expenditures will only get us so far, so progressive tax reform that will increase revenue is a requirement to right the ship.

Women and girls are already receiving such a wafer-thin slice of the pie, and there's no room to trim it further without creating a domino effect that will hurt women, their families and their communities. I urge the governor and legislature to find a way to preserve critical human services while pursuing a realistic and progressive budget plan.