Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Women and Girls Lose Out in GOP Budget

By Lisa Kaiser
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The Assembly has finally begun voting on the state budget, which offers an income tax break heavily tilted toward the wealthy, expands vouchers statewide, cuts off more than 80,000 people from BadgerCare, borrows close to $1 billion for freeways and, oh yeah, does some horrible things to women.

Courtesy of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, here are the worst female-related budget items offered by Republicans:

 

What Women’s Health Supporters Are Watching in the Budget Debates

Recognizing the 10 Worst Changes for Women in the 2013-2015 State Budget Proposals

 

Madison– As the Assembly and Senate take up the State Budget this week, the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health continues to raise awareness of what’s at stake for Wisconsin women and girls.  As part of our Wisconsin State Budget Impact on Women & Girls Report project, the following outlines the 10 Worst Changes for Women in the 2013-2015 Wisconsin Budget:

 

1. Turning down the opportunity to close the coverage gaps in BadgerCare: The budget rejects the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would have closed the existing BadgerCare coverage gaps by covering new enrollees, including uninsured childless adults, without affecting current enrollees. The current proposal to reduce eligibility for parents on BadgerCare while increasing eligibility for childless adults will cost significantly more money and cover fewer Wisconsinites than the alternatives (such as the one that suggests increasing eligibility to 133% of poverty rather than 100% of poverty as currently proposed). This is a particularly troubling budgetary change for women since many female parents and many children on BadgerCare are anticipated to lose coverage.

2. Not reinvesting in most women’s health programs: The previous budget (2011-2013) took a big bite out of women’s health programs to the tune of 10-20% of their operating budget. The Women’s Health Block Grant, the Wisconsin Well-Woman Program, the Tobacco Control Program, and the Infant Mortality Program were among the critical women’s health programs and services that were significantly cut in the last budget and unfortunately this budget does nothing to restore those drastic cuts.


3. Underfunding Wisconsin Works (W-2): The budget cuts $13.4 million from W-2 based on a faulty assumption that the W-2 caseload will decline at a rate of 1% per month throughout the biennium, with a starting monthly caseload of 12,686 in July 2013 and an ending caseload of 10,068 in June 2015. However, the average monthly caseload was over 13,500 in November and December 2012 and has increased 14% since December. The faulty assumption that the W-2 caseload will reduce over the biennium allows for the siphoning off of money that should be supporting low-income families. This proposed budget cut could mean a significant reduction in these critical, family-supporting services for low-income women and girls in the state and will likely result in a budgetary shortfall that will put further pressure on legislators to make cuts in the next biennial budget.

4. Shifting TANF money to fund EITC: The budget shifts about $19 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant - some of which is money taken from W-2 as described above - to fund the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). By funding EITC with TANF money, the GPR money that would have been used for EITC can be used for things such as income tax cuts for the wealthy. Though it’s confusing, you can begin to see how the shifting of money in the budget becomes a domino effect with a result that’s not-so-good for low-income families in our state.

5. Reducing funding for Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy: The budget reduces the amount allocated to the Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy $35 million. This program, designed to help low-income families afford child care in order to go to work or school, is projected to have lower enrollment numbers than the previous biennium. Based on this projection, there are some overage dollars that could be invested into this critical program to improve the overall quality and structure of early childhood education in the state but instead the budget bill shifts this money out of the program.

6. Cutting income taxes for the wealthy. The most-recent version of the budget (from the Joint Finance Committee) cuts taxes for the wealthy at an even higher rate than Governor Walker’s initial budget proposal and collapses 5 tax brackets into 4 to the benefit of high-income earners. In the new proposal, those earning less than $50,000 annually will see about $45 in cut taxes while those earning $150,000 or more will get an income tax reduction between $500 and $1500. This change in income tax structure and rate will cost more than $650 million over the biennium. Women are more likely to live in poverty than men and to be paid less money for equal work. The decision to lose this significant amount of revenue while simultaneously siphoning off funding for low-income families will have a detrimental effect on Wisconsin women and families.


7. Making “able-bodied” adults work 20 hours per week to qualify for FoodShare: The budget would require all “able bodied adults without dependents” to work at least 20 hours per week in order to qualify for the state-based FoodShare program. Though this provision excludes pregnant women, people over 50 years of age, and parents with children up to age 18, there are a lot of remaining concerns about the estimated 75,000 people enrolled in the program that this change would apply to. Not only does the definition of “able-bodied” remain unclear but, given the state’s dismal employment record right now, it is yet to be seen how these 75,000 individuals will all get and maintain employment in order to have access to this basic and life-sustaining support.

8. Changing how financial aid works: Given that women are more likely than men to live in poverty and need financial aid to attend undergraduate and graduate school, the decision to remove the existing policy that increases the amount of financial aid to account for increases in tuition will have a disproportionate impact on Wisconsin women. The short tuition freeze that’s included in the budget will slightly lessen this impact but the long-term concern about education affordability remains.

9. Not making a meaningful re-investment in K-12 public education: The last budget (2011-2013) included dramatic cuts to K-12 education in Wisconsin. Coming into the 2013-2015 budget with a small surplus could have meant a meaningful reinvestment in public education. Instead, the budget includes a tiny increase for public education (one that will not even account for inflation much less mitigate the damages of the previous cuts) while investing significant state resources into voucher programs which will mean even more money diverted away from public schools. Women and families depend on the public school infrastructure in our state not just for quality education but also community strength and stability.

10. Banning local governments from promoting healthy choices for kids and families: A last-minute addition to the budget would ban local governments in Wisconsin from restricting the size of sugared soft-drinks. Supposedly, this provision is meant to preempt any local action to restrict soda sizes throughout the state which, in and of itself, could have a negative impact on the already high obesity rates in Wisconsin. However, the effects could be even farther-reaching than soda size. It may result in local municipalities being unable to promote healthy food options in vending machines, invest in employee wellness programs or use zoning, taxes or other means of improving the health of a community. Obesity is a significant health problem in our state; women and families need more help making healthy choices rather than fewer. Obesity levels are rising and impact the health and well-being of women overall but it also has a serious impact on birth outcomes and generational obesity. The vast state budget is not the place for a non-fiscal policy item like this to be pushed through without debate or attention.

 

 

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