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new Federal Budget Doesn’t Add Up

Tuesday, 13 February 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Women, provides this insightful and critical perspective concerning the new federal budget.  For Rosenthal and others, the new Federal Budget Doesn’t Add Up!

A brief review of the President’s proposed 2008 budget

Public budgets are more than just numbers. These are moral documents. This money being spent is our money. It’s our hard-earned tax dollars. So, we need to ask: How are we building our community and growing our potential? Are we investing in others by building safe, healthy and just communities for all women and girls? The budget is a blueprint and it should reflect our willingness to actually commit to helping the most vulnerable of our society. 

Hannah Rosenthal, executive director

(Feb. 12, 2007) When you start talking about millions of dollars, it’s hard for many of us to imagine. Now try trillions and the amounts are inconceivable.

But whatever the numbers, when you look at the $2.9 trillion federal budget proposal the President introduced last week, it doesn’t add up when it comes to supporting women, children, the elderly and the poor.

This year, unlike recent years, there will be more of a discussion in Washington, D.C. about the budget. In fact, it should be a big debate. We know now that the President’s proposal will not stand. Some might call this partisan politics at play. We prefer to think of it as the give and take of a great democracy. Debate is what makes this country strong. And the greatest part of it all is that in this country all of us have a chance to have a voice in this process—no matter what we believe. We can and we should speak up and tell our congressmen, our congresswomen and our senators as well as our President how we want money to be spent.

The fiscal year 2008 budget proposal cuts programs and policies that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in our society. And these cuts in the President’s proposal come on the back of a budget process in shambles. Last year’s fiscal 2007 budget is still being discussed by Congress—long after it should have been put to bed. And it maintains deep cuts made in the fiscal 2006 budget that were especially hard on single mothers and elderly women.

Add these cuts to today’s realities: 

  • Real wages have gone down in the last several years—people are earning less.

  • Poverty is up, including extreme poverty, which affects mostly women.

  • Food insecurity is up.

  • And more than 9.2 million working families are now on the brink of poverty.

This budget proposal would make all of today’s realities even harsher: It eliminates or sharply reduces 141 programs, most of which are critical to women’s economic security, health and safety. 

The money we are spending on programs, not dealing with defense or homeland security is down by almost 25 percent. And the income gap between rich and poor will be exacerbated if these proposals go through because while low- and middle-income Americans wages are going down, this budget gives American earning more than $1 million annually a tax break of $162,000. Think about it. The tax break alone is more than four times the average American income. 

This federal budget document is not easy to navigate. It’s more than several inches thick. So we have compiled a brief review of what is in there. Our information comes from our own reading of the proposal as well as analyses by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the Center for Law and Social Policy, National Women’s Law Center, Women’s E-news, Women’s Edge Coalition, Center for American Progress, Women’s Policy, Inc., MacArthur Program on Human and Community Development, Coalition on Human Needs, OMB Watch and articles in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Men and women are poor for different reasons. Often a job with a living wage can bring a man out of poverty. A woman needs not only a job but support services such as child care if she is to live over the poverty line. In the fiscal 2006 budget, the Congressional Budget Office said child care funding was more than $11 billion short, according to what was needed to make sure the women already in the program were covered in accordance with the new work requirements of TANF or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Last week’s means 300,000 fewer children will get child care coverage between 2006 and 2010. On top of that, the Child Care Development Block Grants, money to states, is also cut. U.S. Census data puts the number of children living in working poor families up, yet the number receiving child care assistance is down. The proposed cuts will erode the situation further, leaving more children alone while moms have to work their jobs.

The earning gap for women hurts women’s ability to stay above water. Investments in job training, elementary education and higher education opportunities as well as Title IX programs are pivotal to making sure young women succeed. This budget proposal devastates these efforts. It would eliminate: 

  • the Women in Apprenticeship and Non-Traditional Occupation Act, outreach programs to encourage education for those with disadvantaged backgrounds, 

  • the Women’s Education Equity Act, which helps schools with Title IX compliance, 

  • funding for comprehensive school reforms, 

  • the Even Start program, which funds family literacy programs,

  • drop-out prevention, 

  • parental information and resource centers, 

  • Commodity Supplemental Food program for 440,000 low income seniors, and 

  • programs for incarcerated youth.

Ironically, as we face sub-zero weather, the proposal would cut by 20 percent the Low Income Home Energy Assistance program. These cuts come on top of 44 percent increases in fuel prices since 2002. This means about 1 million families will be forced out of this program—and two-thirds of those families have annual incomes less than $8,000. 

Vouchers that help families pay for renting apartments and homes will be frozen in the proposal, cutting those vouchers to the 40-80,000 families who now depend upon them. (This is on top of the 150,000 vouchers cut since 2004.) And for seniors who need housing assistance, that budget is cut by almost 25 percent.

Deep cuts are also proposed for programs that prepare low-income women and girls for challenges, such as: 

  •  Job Corps,

  • dislocated worker programs, and

  • the Small Business Administration.

The Social Services Block Grant program which gives state money for basic services to vulnerable low-income families is slated for a 30 percent cut. Also cut are:

  • K-12 physical education assistance,

  • Title I educational funding,

  • Early Reading First funds,

  • Meals-on-Wheels and other aging programs,

  • community development block grants, and

  • federal housing support—76 percent of women. 

Head Start is cut by more than 13 percent, and significant cuts are found in Safe and Drug Free Schools, vocational education, child welfare, runaway and homeless youth, and adoption services.

Child Support enforcement funds to the states are deeply cut, and the death benefit for widows is eliminated.

The proposal calls for level funding—that means no increases or costs of living adjustments—for the Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor and the Minority Business Resource Center which assists small women-owned and other disadvantaged business firms. 

Level funding is also slated for child care access for parents in schools, minority science and engineering improvement, and abandoned infants assistance.

Food stamps are another support for women trying to keep their families together, safe and healthy. It’s cut. Which means 300,000 people would lose food stamps—75 percent of whom are women and two-thirds are low-income elderly. The supplemental nutrition program for Women Infants and Children is cut—Illinois alone will lose almost $7 million. Also cut are the number of low-income children receiving school breakfasts and lunches.

More than 2 million women and girls have lost their health insurance over the last five years, and the proposed cuts would eliminate coverage for many more women in the country. 

Illinois is one of the only states expanding coverage for women—and now proposes to cover all people living in the state. But the federal cuts may hamper Illinois’ efforts to cover more women and poor children. The proposed cuts in the Medicaid budget alone will: 

  •  change requirements for states’ reporting,

  • limit reimbursements for drugs,

  • change eligibility systems,

  • extend the refugee eligibility exemption,

  • cap payments for service providers, and

  • allow states to avoid costs for prenatal and preventive pediatric claims. 

Cuts to many other programs that target health services and treatments including: 

  • newborn screenings,

  • grants to train emergency personnel to care for children,

  • Maternal and Child Health Programs,

  • Office of Women’s Health,

  • community health centers, and

  • home health and hospice services.  

Severe cuts are proposed for the national family caregiver support program, the national Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities, the Mental Services Block Grant, and a 50 percent cut in Cord Blood Stem Cell Bank.

Family planning funds are frozen at fiscal 2006 levels, thereby cutting the number of women and children served by tens of thousands.

Also frozen at old levels is the Healthy Start program which provides services to high risk pregnant women, infants and mothers in communities with high rates of infant mortality.

In addition, a few health programs are completely eliminated, including Safe and Drug Free School Zones, school mental health programs, Alzheimer public education, and all $99 million in preventive health services grants. 

But the President is proposing to fund the Adolescent Health Promotion Initiative, a $17 million injury prevention program for schools to focus on safety, physical activity and healthy eating. Additionally, the President has requested $39 million to fund health marketing to give people more information to make personal choices about health.

There also is $10 million in the budget to fund a public education campaign about abstinence—a method of birth control that a majority of public health officials agree is not effective.

Level funding is proposed for most of the high visibility money that goes to the Violence Against Women Act, including funding for battered women shelters and the national Domestic Violence Hotline. Funding for domestic violence and sexual assault services has not increased in seven years, and this budget would make it eight. 

But a bone-chilling change is buried deep in the proposal, which would give the Department of Justice, rather than Congress, discretion over how the federal dollars are spent. This flies in the face of the recent reauthorization of the law. There are additional VAWA dollars in the Department of Health and Human Services budget, but it is also frozen, which represents a real cut in the number of women and girls that can be served.

The proposal also seeks to consolidate child safety and juvenile justice services including:

  • protection of children from sexual exploitation,

  • domestic human trafficking,

  • prisoner reentry services, and

  • services to crime victims. 

It also consolidates grant programs to support efforts to develop and implement coordinated prevention and prosecution of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and supportive victim services—urging partnerships with government agencies, police, prosecutors, judiciary, victim advocates, health care providers and faith leaders.

All of us desire that women should have children when it is best to have them, to raise children safely to adulthood in good health and to educate these great little people for the jobs of tomorrow. Most women will spend 17 years raising children and 18 years caring for an aging parent. It is not just a platitude to say that it takes a village to raise a child. It clearly does take all of us, especially to support those women raising children alone and in poverty. But this brief review of the proposed budget shows that needed programs will be slashed. Our will and our advocacy are needed to build the political will to change this budget.

We need to reverse the cuts, to demand fairer treatment for vulnerable populations, to protect women and children from slipping further into desperation and to invest in the future of our families and communities.
Chicago Foundation for Women believes all women and girls should have the opportunity to achieve their potential and to live in safe, just and healthy communities. To that end, we believe we must: 

  • Demand that our government’s blueprint for the future enable that vision.

  • Ensure that we give more support to our grantees to advocate for the women and girls they serve.

  • And we must maximize our impact by building strong partnerships and coalitions with other groups that join us in demanding safe, just and healthy communities for all.

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