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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Issue of the Week: Playing Games With Women's Health

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How cruel is this?

In his quest to balance the state budget without raising taxes on the wealthy, Gov. Scott Walker is playing games with the health and well-being of low-income women and children.

Walker's budget cuts $1.9 million for family planning services for low-income women around the state. That's bad enough, since the program actually saves the state millions each year because it helps to lower birth rates and improve maternal and child health.

But Walker's cut gets even worse, because it would jeopardize a $10 million federal grant that supports local clinics in 50 Wisconsin counties. Without federal funds, these clinics would be hard-pressed to provide family planning services, cervical cancer screenings and care for children with serious health problems. These clinics would have to close, ask for higher payments from their low-income clients or somehow find private funding for their operations. None of these is a good option.

Walker's pro-privatization Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith argues that Wisconsin would still qualify for the $10 million federal grant even if it does slash state support. But the Wisconsin Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association argues otherwise, and it has filed a formal complaint with the federal Department of Health and Human Services in an attempt to stop Walker and Smith from eliminating the state funds.

But like Walker's attack on collective bargaining, his attack on women's health isn't just about money. It's about ideology and power. Walker and his running mate, Rebecca Kleefisch, were the first gubernatorial ticket to be endorsed by the extremist group Pro-Life Wisconsin, which in addition to opposing abortion also opposes contraceptives. This is a historic turn of events, since the fringe group is so out of the mainstream that it has never before had such access to the Capitol, even when Republicans were in charge. Now that Pro-Life Wisconsin does have access, suddenly the state, after years of success with the program, no longer wants to support birth control for low-income women. Walker's support of this agenda, contrary to common sense, is utterly predictable.

Talk about cruel.

Heroes of the Week

The Volunteers at Rebuilding Together Greater Milwaukee

Maintaining a house is an expensive and laborious undertaking even for the wealthy and able-bodied. For low-income families, handicapped residents and seniors, the task can be both insurmountable and unaffordable. Enter Rebuilding Together Greater Milwaukee (RTGM), a nonprofit whose mission “is to preserve and revitalize homes and communities, assuring that very low-income elderly homeowners and disabled homeowners, as well as families with children, live in warmth, safety and independence.”

With local corporate sponsorship, RTGM volunteers descend on the properties of pre-selected homeowners to make repairs and improvements, such as constructing ramps, installing grab bars and handrails, and performing needed painting, plumbing, electrical and roof work. Without the efforts of the volunteer laborers, many of these homeowners would be forced to move.

“Rebuilding Day” takes place Saturday, May 14. Readers interested in helping are urged to call RTGM at 414-312-7531, or visit www.rtmilwaukee.org.