Despite the fact that voters were clear they expected Congress to raise taxes on the wealthy to help tackle this country’s fiscal woes, Republicans have so far refused to budge in the budget negotiations, leaving the reality of a collective plunge off the fiscal cliff increasingly likely. What does all this fiscal cliff talk mean for women? A lot. Here’s the top three reasons why women stand to lose the most in the budget stalemate.
1. Mandatory cuts to Medicare and Medicaid
As it stands about 50 million seniors and disabled Americans rely on Medicare to cover their health care costs. Women make up more than two-thirds of those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, a reflection of the fact that women are generally more likely than men to be poor and rely on supplemental coverage for the treatment of a long-term disability. Should Congress fail to pass a budget, around $11 billion will be automatically cut from Medicare, which means significantly reduced payments to doctors, hospitals, long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
Millions of women also rely on Medicaid-funded reproductive health care. Right now, one in ten American women access health care through Title X and Medicaid funding clinics and services. For places like Planned Parenthood, nearly 40 percent of its client base accesses health care through the clinic alone. Mandatory cuts to these programs could be the difference between women accessing life saving pap smears or not.
These cuts impact women not just as beneficiaries but as caregivers as their budgets and resources available to care for loved ones become compromised so as to help the rich save a buck.
2. Food Stamp Cuts
Nutritional assistance through the Women Infant and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC) helps feed millions of low-income families in this country. More than 48 million people in this country are considered “food insecure” and if there is no budget deal, about $543 million would be cut from the WIC budget. Separately, child nutrition programs would lose about $4 million.
That means women and children across the country would lose access to vouchers to purchase milk, fruit, vegetables and other staples. The long-term impact of these cuts will be at best difficult. Hunger impacts school performance and overall health, and as more families go hungry our already-stressed public education and health systems will bear the brunt of greater need and fewer resources. It will create and reinforce a spiral of poverty practically impossible to break.
3. Social Security Cuts and Adjustments
Despite the fact that women are more likely to be better educated than men, women are still paid less over their lifetimes. That means that women are more likely to rely on Social Security for longer than their male counterparts and because of the persistent gender pay gap, more likely to live in poverty but for Social Security. That means cuts to Social Security impact women significantly more than they do men.
One popular proposal floating around as part of any Grand Bargain is the idea of changing how Social Security cost-of-living adjustments are determined. Reformers want to tie those increases to the Chained Consumer Price Index which would be a cut in benefits somewhere between 0.25 and 0.3 percent a year. According to the Congressional Budget Office this would save the federal government an estimated $100 billion over a decade.
It doesn’t sound like much, but according to the National Women’s Law Center, a single elderly woman currently receives a about $1100 per month in Social Security benefits. Under a chained CPI, this same woman would lose $56 a month by age 80, $87 a month at 90 and $101 a month at 95, resulting in a final reduction in benefits of more than ten percent.
As Congress gets closer to this so-called “fiscal cliff” we’re going to hear more and more about the need for a shared sacrifice. But unless Wall Street and the one-percenters step up there is no “shared” sacrifice going on here. As usual it is women, and the most vulnerable women at that, who stand to lose the most because of congressional brinkmanship.
Photo from quinn.anya via flickr.