Which Political Party Is Budgeting for Women’s Futures?

Recent budget proposals by the Biden administration and Republicans in Congress show how the two parties plan to support—or not—women and families.

(Grace Cary / Getty Images)

In any year, tax season can be a financial wake-up call, the inescapable arithmetic of what you earned minus what you owe. This year, the math may feel tougher than usual: Inflation is inching downward, but costs for groceries, childcare and rent feel out of reach. For too many—especially women of color—paychecks aren’t keeping up. (Thanks, gender wage gap, and so much more!) It doesn’t help that right-wing extremists are constantly threatening to shut down the government in order to take away rights from women, immigrants and people living on the margins. 

Those budget battles may look like just a sideshow, but fights over taxes and spending are really about fundamental questions: What do women, our families and communities need? What kind of future do we want to build?

Recent budget proposals by the Biden administration and Republicans in Congress show how our two major political parties answer those questions. The answers were starkly different, revealing high stakes when it comes to women’s ability to participate in the economy, care for their families and control their own reproductive lives. 

How the Biden Administration’s Proposal Aids Women

President Biden’s budget would invest in supporting caregivers and improving caregiving jobs by finally creating a national program to guarantee 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers. It calls on Congress to pass a law ensuring all working people can earn paid sick and safe leave.

In addition to boosting the child tax credit—which would cut child poverty rates—the White House budget also lays out big investments to increase access to affordable childcare for millions of families. The plan budgets for these critical investments by making the very wealthy and large corporations pay a more fair share of taxes.

Nonprofit organization MomsRising offers Valentine’s Day greetings to Congress members outside the Hart Senate Office Building on Feb. 8, 2024. They ask lawmakers to fund childcare, fund nutrition for women and children, and expand the child tax credit. (Paul Morigi / Getty Images for MomsRising)

To tackle pay discrimination and help ensure that women—especially women of color—have a fair chance to enter higher-paying, historically male-dominated fields, the Biden administration has refreshingly gone in a different direction and called for a more than $300 million funding increase for the Department of Labor’s enforcement of equal pay and other worker protection laws. That includes a $3 million investment in the Women’s Bureau’s work to help states expand paid leave benefits.

Women are the powerhouse of our economy. They make up nearly half the labor force, and the majority of mothers are breadwinners for their households. Women also do most of the unpaid or underpaid caregiving labor that makes our economy and communities possible. Women provide an average of 153 hours per year of unpaid caregiving for children, adult family members and other loved ones—an annual value of more than $625 billion. Women of color are overrepresented, and wildly undervalued in our increasingly short-staffed paid care workforce, performing essential work in early childhood education, home care and nursing. 

Republican Budget Cuts Fail Women

Despite their pro-family claims, House Republicans, offer nothing on paid leave. They continue to push big cuts to family supporting programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Medicaid and Medicare—none of which would make life easier for caregivers.

House Republicans are, however, laser focused on helping out the already wealthy. They want to double down on the Trump tax cuts and create even more loopholes for billionaires and wealthy corporations, allowing them to avoid paying their fair share.

By eliminating the Women’s Bureau, the only government department tasked with safeguarding the needs of working women, House Republicans would drastically increase the wage gap. In addition, they plan to gut the funding enforcing labor laws, including the Equal Pay Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and slash the budget for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which is tasked with tackling discrimination and harassment in the workplace. They didn’t quite say fair pay isn’t worth a dime, but it was close.

House Republicans’ FY24 budget proposed cutting nearly $800 million from government programs that fund maternal and child health and improve women’s healthcare. This includes gutting or eliminating key federal programs that advance health equity and help build and diversify the healthcare workforce. And they propose to further restrict access to abortion and reproductive health services.

Budgeting for Gender Equity and Reproductive Freedom

Nearly 60 years after the Civil Rights Act banned employment discrimination by “race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” the job market and workplaces are still rife with inequities that hold down women’s pay and block them from career opportunities.

Closing gender and racial wage gaps would make a big difference in women’s household budgets: Latinas could afford an additional 33 months of childcare per year, Black women 12 months of mortgage payments and Native American Women could pay off student loans in just 18 months. These government agencies and programs are critical to achieving the equity women of color need. 

As if women didn’t have enough to manage, the devastating impacts of the Dobbs decision on our health, economic lives and loved ones continue to emerge. More than 15 million women of color of reproductive age live in states that have banned or are likely to ban abortion. Attacks on abortion directly harm the health of pregnant and birthing people. They also undermine the provider workforce, worsening provider shortages and our maternal health crisis.

Can a federal budget try to expand reproductive freedom? The White House budget points toward some possibilities, like investing nearly $400 million in the Title X Family Planning program and another $376 million on the White House Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis. President Biden has also called on Congress to pass a law to codify the right to abortion.

As we finish filing our taxes this year, we’ll be thinking about the future we want to budget for—one where the economy works for everyone, where caregivers have all the supports they need to thrive, and where women of color and all people’s health and reproductive freedom are prioritized.

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Jessica Mason is a senior policy analyst at the National Partnership for Women & Families, where she conducts in-house research and data analysis, tracks developments in research and develops advocacy resources related to the workplace and economic security agenda. Jessica’s analyses have focused on a range of issues, from paid leave and paid sick days, to the wage gap, to occupational segregation and various forms of worker discrimination. Jessica holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.