Why women and children are on the fiscal chopping block (and why I’m not surprised) - Women's Foundation California
Katie Egan
Katie Egan

by Katie Egan, Program Assistant

When I read Bryce Covert’s article about the effects of the fiscal cliff on low-income women and children in the New York Times, I was furious. In the article, Covert explains that when it comes down to it, whether we careen over the fiscal cliff or come to some grand political bargain that will prevent sequestration, low-income women and children are likely to face drastic cuts to vital, life-saving programs.

Covert explains that if the US government does nothing and goes over the cliff (à laWile E. Coyote) sequestration kicks in, resulting in an 8.2% reduction in “nondefense discretionary spending,” money that essentially represents public investment in the entire country. However, 25% of this spending goes to programs that help low-income people. Thus, such a cut would result in severe spending reductions in programs that are crucial to poor women and their families: programs in education, housing assistance, child care, nutrition assistance, home heating assistance, and more.

Even if a bargain between Republicans and Democrats can be reached before we tumble off the fiscal cliff next month, Covert points out that the poor are still likely to face equally deep cuts to social programs that will inevitably be used as bargaining chips by both sides of the isle. Programs like Medicaid, food stamps, supplemental security income, unemployment benefits, Pell Grants, housing assistance, Head Start, and WIC are all at risk of facing severe cuts in their funding as a part of the negotiation process between President Obama and Congressional Republicans. And because women are the majority of those living in poverty today, they will be most negatively impacted by the loss of such assistance.

This information infuriated me, but it did not shock me. It didn’t shock me because it is the same story that we have been hearing for years now. Here in California the needs of women and children have consistently been neglected in the name of “fiscal responsibility.” As we have discussed (over and over again), these types of cuts have a much more negative impact on low-income women and their families than for anyone else in California.

In reality, attacks on these programs tell us one thing: the United States does not value poor women and their families. The most vulnerable populations in our country are constantly facing worsening conditions, and we continually create budgets that reflect a complete lack of desire to make things better.

That’s because poor women, and especially poor, single mothers, are constantly viewed as undeserving. As Sandy Banks points out in her LA Times article, the social perception of single mothers is a negative one, and one that is conflated with stereotypes of the poor. Single mothers, regardless of their race or class, are consistently depicted as careless, selfish, lazy Welfare Queens that don’t deserve government support. They are often blamed for a variety of societal problems, including raising children who are prone to violent crime, when in reality it is the financial and emotional instability of growing up poor that puts children at risk, not their single mothers’ selfish or lazy tendencies.

In fact, we know that in reality the stereotype of the single mother is not even remotely accurate in describing low-income women, whether they are partnered or not. Poor mothers are just as hardworking and passionate about the future of their children as anyone. Women like Daniella Scally, Beckie Moralez, Magali Sanchez Hall, and Jennifer LaBounty are not exceptions to the rule: they are the norm. They are women who strive to be positive role models for their children and who care deeply about their children’s education. Unfortunately, they are also all women who have faced poverty. Through their own hard work and assistance from CalWORKs and other social programs, these women have been able to better provide for their children, but without these programs, women like them will continue to struggle.

Until we begin to challenge these perceptions of poor mothers as undeserving and instill a cultural value of all women and families, we will continue to see attacks on social programs that low-income families rely on to survive, at both the state and federal level. It is an old, tired story – and it makes me mad. It makes me mad because I know how much we could gain by investing in the health and wellbeing of poor women and their families. Investing in women is an investment in our future, which not only helps to build stronger families, but also helps to create stronger communities.

Instead, we continue to undervalue the poor, moving forward to slash budgets at the expense of women and children throughout the country. And unfortunately, with the cultural discourse surrounding poor women and single mothers remaining contemptuous, I am not surprised.

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