Women’s Programs Face Deep Cuts as States Tackle Budget DeficitsAlison Vekshin
In theory, the $300 a month in welfare Sharita Williams gets from California might work out to about $10 a day to support herself and two sons. Only it doesn’t stretch that far.
So last week, the San Francisco single mother had a choice: Pay $2 to take the bus to job interviews, or buy diapers. She missed the appointments.
“I have to make sure my son has diapers, wipes, and that money goes quick,” Williams, 38, who has been staying with family while she looks for work, said by telephone. “I’m going to have to start looking at some shelters.”
Women face hardship more than men as cash-strapped states cut social-welfare programs to balance lower revenue and higher costs for pensions and health care. Women make up about 54 percent of the poor, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, and thus are more affected by reductions in Medicaid, child-care assistance and domestic-violence programs.
“Women disproportionately rely on social services,” Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, said by telephone. “They have lower incomes and more frequently are single parents responsible for providing for children.”
In California, the most populous U.S. state, CalWorks is the face of the federal welfare program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It provides money and employment services to low-income families with children, such as Williams.
More than three-quarters of adult recipients, 78 percent, are women, according to a 2010 report by the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan research group in Sacramento.
Cut in Aid
Lawmakers reduced the grants by 8 percent in this year’s budget, cutting the maximum monthly aid for a family of four to $762 from $828, according to Michael Weston, a spokesman for the Social Services Department.
The state also reduced the aid’s duration to four years from five, Weston said. The program served about 598,000 families as of June, he added.
“Women are in these programs because they are primary caregivers for children,” said Mary Wiberg, executive director of the California Commission on the Status of Women, a nonpartisan state agency. “They have costs and expenses for caring for their families that are having domino negative effects as the cuts are made.”
Spending on health and human-services programs consumes the second-largest share of California’s general-fund budget, said H.D. Palmer, a Finance Department spokesman. Only education takes more money, he said.
‘Unprecedented Budget Gaps’
“California has had to close unprecedented budget gaps in recent years,” Palmer said in a telephone interview. “In making those reductions, every effort has been made to maintain a social safety net for the most vulnerable.”
States will have to close budget shortfalls of more than $46 billion in fiscal 2013, according to a June report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit research organization in Washington. The deficits mean states have had to make severe cuts to programs already emaciated from several years of recession-driven reductions.
California was among states including Washington, South Carolina, New Mexico and Wisconsin in reducing family assistance, the center said in a report Oct. 3.
“To be effective, a safety net must be able to expand when the need for assistance rises,” according to the report. “The TANF block grant is failing this test.”
In Arizona, where Medicaid spending jumped 65 percent in the last four years, the state froze enrollment for childless adults in July, dropping 26,000 from the rolls, said Monica Coury, a spokeswoman for the Health Care Cost Containment System.
Women comprise 70 percent of adult Medicaid recipients, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. Enrollment in the $428 billion joint federal-state health-insurance plan for the poor has surged in the past three years as people lost jobs or their income dropped enough for them to qualify.
Arizona also reduced the duration of the family assistance benefits to two years from three, a change that’s expected to affect about 3,500 families, Stephen Meissner, a spokesman for the Economic Security Department, said in an e-mail.
The Grand Canyon State’s domestic-violence budget has shrunk by 25 percent, or about $4 million, since fiscal 2009, Meissner said.
‘Can’t Spend Money’
“While we wish these cuts were not necessary, those decisions ultimately are made by elected officials,” Meissner said. “We sometimes can shift around some of the cuts to ease their impact, but we can’t spend money we are not allotted.”
In Rhode Island, a state of 1.05 million people, financing of domestic-violence programs fell to about $297,000 this year from $724,000 in 2008, Deborah DeBare, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Warwick, said in an e-mail. The number of victims it serves increased 6.5 percent to about 10,400 in 2010 from 9,800 a year earlier, she said.
“We’re one of the worst states,” DeBare said in a telephone interview, adding that the burden on women has been compounded by cuts in other programs.
“Women in Rhode Island are calling for help at a great degree,” she said. “There are callers looking for not just emergency shelter but rental assistance, food and paying utility bills.”
-- With assistance from Amanda Crawford in Phoenix, Arizona. Editors: Pete Young, Ted Bunker
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