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Trimming Fat—Women Beware!

April 3, 2006

By the end of the week, the House will vote on its version of the Budget Resolution for FY07. On the heels of drastic cuts already finalized for the current year, this Budget Resolution should have women young and old up in arms. Matched with the Administration's call to make permanent earlier tax cuts, the Resolution could be devastating to many, but especially to women and their families. The budget will go through many changes over the course of the year. How frightening it would be if the final budget looks like current proposals. The Administration's FY07 "belt-tightening" budget has been spun as a "fat-trimming" measure, a way to "put more money back in taxpayers’ pockets." But whose pockets, whose purses, whose bodies, which belts? When we trim so-called "fat," do we honestly know what we're cutting? Let's humanize these cuts for a moment, put a face on them. That face is often a woman's. Or a child's. Why women? Women on average earn less than men, are less likely to have access to health care and other benefits through their jobs, and generally live longer. Women tend to have more responsibility for caring for the very young, the elderly, those who are disabled or ill. They represent over 80% of single parents. Poverty rates across the board are high, but more women (12.7%) live in poverty than men (9.3%), and poverty rates among African-American women and Latinas are more than twice that among white women. The rates are even higher for single mothers (35.9%) and single fathers (17.2%) and higher again for families of color. For all these reasons, women depend more on publicly funded programs that support them in their roles in the paid and unpaid economies-like childcare, health care, and retirement benefits.  When government cuts these services, women and children feel it first. Budget cuts and tax cuts go hand in hand. Because taxes provide revenue for public programming, tax cuts necessitate program cuts. Looked at cumulatively, we are facing over $50 billion in lost social services over the next five years. By freezing or shrinking many domestic programs, the Administration reveals its real priorities. "Trimming fat" is not about cutting excess. Because what's being trimmed is not really "fat"-it's core. Here's how some of these cuts play out, and not just for those who used to work at Enron: if your mother or grandmother is one of the more than 400,000 low-income elderly people (one third of whom are over age 75), she will no longer receive nutritional food packages for under $20 a month, because the Commodity Supplemental Food Program is slated for termination. So, too, the Preventative Care Block Grant-no more grants to states for preventative health services for underserved populations. The Child Care and Development Block Grant-frozen. More than 28 million children between the ages of six and seventeen live in households with parents who work and hence are unable to stay at home. As the National Women's Law Center and others remind us, good childcare helps children succeed in school and enables women with low incomes to enter and succeed in the work place. Medicaid, of course, faces slashes and chops. Sixty percent of Americans who receive direct, tax-supported health care coverage under Medicaid are women or girls. Medicare and Social Security, which serve the middle class as well as the poor, are on the chopping block as well. The Even Start program-gone. Head Start's funding-frozen, as is funding for Early Childhood Educator Professional Development and Early Reading First. And if the President is serious about his new initiative to keep America competitive by fostering the development of new technologies, as he announced during the State of the Union, then why cut funding for the Women's Educational Equity Act? This program develops future technologists by helping schools comply with Title IX. It has funded hundreds of programs to interest girls in careers traditionally reserved for men. In his most recent public addresses, the President has made no mention of overhauling the tax code or pursuing any of the recommendations made by his much-touted Tax Reform Advisory Panel. In January's State of the Union, he simply urged Congress to "act responsibly, and make the tax cuts permanent." But making the tax cuts permanent would be irresponsible. They largely benefit the wealthy and corporations, while the budget cuts pose devastating threats to the most economically disadvantaged, the majority of who are also women. Women are over half of the population, and 48% of the workforce. That our government has the audacity, and in an election year no less, to push ahead with these "trims" is not only inhumane. It's self-defeating for the nation as a whole. If we are genuinely interested in thriving as a nation, we should consider these cuts with both our calculators and our consciences.
Tags: Politics