BY SAMANTHA EVERETT We’ve had a few months to get used to the word “sequester.” We even spent some time laying out is consequences for North Carolina women and families last week. It’s a word that few of us said more than a time or two before this January and now those nine letters are echoing in our mind and through our newspapers and newscasts.
Spelling out what sequester means is the hard part, but as we dig deeper, there is mounting evidence that Washington’s budget experiment will weigh heavy on North Carolina women.
Why women in particular? It’s not because lawmakers are targeting us exactly, but in today’s society, we play a vital role both inside and outside the home. At the same time, some undeniable realities about our society make us particularly vulnerable.
Women Can’t Always Make Ends Meet
North Carolina women are caring for themselves and their children. More women than men in North Carolina are single heads of household, and their average income may surprise you. Households headed by women have a median income of $20,000 a year, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. While single women work to support their children, they still can’t expect to make as much as their male counterparts. The median income for women is at least 17 percent less than men, in spite of the fact that more women in the state have some form of college education than men.
It’s hard to imagine how $20,000 dollars would go very far when, according to Child Care Aware of America 2012, the average annual cost of full-time child care in the state is more than $7,000 a year. Sure, women will get a break when their child starts school, but then they have to think about after-school care and how they’ll juggle their work hours with the needs of their child.
It’s also important to remember that whether it’s because of economic necessity or professional desire, women are working with young children. Two-thirds of women with children under five return to work, and finding child care for that age group isn’t easy or cheap.
Women who can’t make those numbers add up are left to look to community-based agencies in the state to fill in the gaps but, thanks to the sequester, there is less help available. Agencies are still calculating the full impact of the mandated cuts, but we know that there will be more than $4.6 million dollars in cuts across vital programs like Head Start and job assistance.
Women seeking jobs will also have less assistance. North Carolina employment services were cut by $1 million dollars because of the sequester, which means that 23,000 fewer job seekers will be served by North Carolina agencies.
Military Women and Families Pay the Price
Improvements to military housing will also be slowed because of the sequester, which will leave women who serve or are a part of military families without adequate housing for their families. Beyond that, a program called Family Child Care (FCC) will also see a reduction in funding. The program provides full- or part-time daycare for children of military employees. Military families have a more difficult time finding child care, partly because they move more often, 10 times more than civilians according to the Department of Defense, and are less likely to have family living close by. It’s unclear just how much the FCC will be cut, but any cut would make it more difficult for military service women to care for their families, or for women spouses to find an adequate support system while their active duty husbands serve the country.
These cuts particularly hurt women in North Carolina, where we have more than 120,000 military families calling the state home.
Violence Against Women is Impacted
The recently passed Violence Against Women Act wasn’t even immune to sequester cuts. The act reauthorized original legislation passed in 1994 that provides funding and increased community-based responses for domestic violence. Nationwide, funding for the legislation will decrease by more than $6 million dollars and the Department of Justice estimates that more than $20 million dollars will be lost from all Violence Against Women Act programs. North Carolina domestic violence hotlines received almost 100,000 calls for help in 2010, according to the North Carolina Council for Women. With studies pointing to the fact that domestic violence increases when there is financial stress in the home, the timing couldn’t be worse.
Healthcare for Women is Under Siege
While women struggle to make ends meet for their family, their health is also in jeopardy. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the sequester eliminated nearly $1 billion dollars in Federal funding for North Carolina programs designed to improve the health of women. This is an across the board cut of more than eight percent to programs that already had had up to a six month wait for basic women’s health check-ups.
Another $200,000 was cut from the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program, meaning 750 fewer women will be screened for two of our most deadly diseases. In the last five years, the program caught more than 1,200 cervical and breast cancers.
Not Even Children are Spared
Because of the mandated cuts, more than 22,000 mothers and their children will be cut from the Women, Infants and Children program in North Carolina. The WIC program offers food and supplemental nutrition to women and their children under five. Another block grant that aimed to combat infant mortality and chronic conditions saw a $1.3 million dollar cut.
There will also be fewer educational programs for children, which will weigh heavy on female caregivers. Child Care and Development Block Grants that serve as the federal funding source for child care subsidies and help improve the quality of child care will see a $4 million cut from the sequester and the Head Start program will lose $9 million from its budget.
Weighing Submarines and Well-Being for Women and Families
There are some in Washington who argue these cuts were unavoidable and are necessary to bring the federal budget back in check. While it may be that the money had to be cut from somewhere, the question is: did it have to be cut from these programs? For perspective, it costs about $2.4 billion dollars to construct a nuclear submarine. There are two scheduled to be built this year. That same amount of money equals the cuts made to funding for WIC nutritional programs, child care assistance, cancer screenings, Head Start, family military housing, family planning services and HIV treatment and prevention. While submarines are undoubtedly an important part of the country’s defense, cutting just one of these projects would have saved all of the programs impacting the health and well-being of women and their children, including countless North Carolinians.