How the Sequester Will Hurt Women And Children

Huge U.S. budget cuts (to the tune of $85 billion for 2013) will take effect on Friday unless Congress acts quickly to prevent sequestration. These impending cuts are the result of the Budget Control Act, a 2011 piece of legislation which stipulated that if a bill to reduce the national deficit is not produced, across-the-board cuts will kick in. While the cuts don’t apply to the majority of the money spent by the U.S. government (including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security), the sequester’s effects will be profound, especially on more vulnerable populations such as women and children.

The White House released a report on the state-by-state effects of the sequester, and the outlook looks grim. The STOP Violence Against Women program, created under the Violence Against Women Act (just passed by the House today) would receive funding cuts in every state. Nationwide, the White House estimates that funding for the STOP Violence Against Women will decrease by more than $6 million, and the Department of Justice estimates that more than $20 million might be lost from all of VAWA’s programs. These millions will reduce much-needed federal resources for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

In terms of education, the White House estimates that almost every state would receive at least $1 million in cuts to funding for primary and secondary schooling, with some states (Georgia, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, California) each facing funding cuts of more than $20 million. Teachers and teaching aides will find their jobs at risks and the educational needs of thousands of students will no longer be served. Almost 60,000 children will lose their access to early education with cuts to Head Start, a federal program that works with children from birth to age five from low-income families. Children with disabilities are also in trouble: Education de-funding ranges from $925,00 to $62.9 million per state.

Sequestration also harms mothers and their families. Almost $600 million would be cut from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides “nutritious foods, nutritional education and referrals to health and other social services free of charge to participants” and serves low-income pregnant women and mothers. The cuts would deprive these mothers and their children of some of their most basic needs in nutrition and health services. The Safe Motherhood Initiative, which works with state organizations to identify and prevent pregnancy-related deaths, would get a $4 million deduction in funding. The Maternal Child Health Bureau and its Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant will be cut by nearly $100 million, which would eliminate health services, education and programs for more than 40 million woman, infants and children with special health care needs. The cuts would also force rural clinics that serve children with special health care needs to close.

Women’s jobs are also in danger. According to Doug Elmendorf, director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, 750,000 jobs may be eliminated in 2013 alone. Women working in the public sector have already had a rough year; of the 721,000 jobs lost, 63 percent were women’s jobs. Thousands more jobs would be lost due to the sequester, a harsh blow to women, who make up more than half of public sector employees and are 50 percent more likely than men to be employed in public sector jobs.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke about the “substantial” impact the cuts will have on women, including the cuts to women’s health, initiatives to support children and families and to public sector jobs where women are more likely to be fired. Pelosi urged Congress, “for the sake of America’s women … Democrats and Republicans must work together.”

Today, the Obama Administration officially announced support for S. 388, a bill which would delay sequestration and provide Congress with more time. But unless Congress manages to do something by tomorrow, there will be devastating consequences for women and children.

Photo via Flickr user glynlowe under Creative Commons 2.0