As we emerge from the 25th annual celebration of Women’s History Month, there are many things to celebrate in the realm of support for women’s rights. Funding for human services, however, is not one of them. HSC’s recent report, Dangerous Moves: How Public Funding Cuts to Human Services Hurt Women and Children details the important role human services play in keeping women safe, healthy, and employed.
Human services help everyone from the unemployed to the retired. Yet many services such as child care, programs for the elderly, domestic violence prevention, family health care, and homeless programs are particularly important to women because they rely on them to support their families and work lives. Seventy seven percent of New Yorkers living in poverty* in 2009 were adult women or children, and two-thirds of the city’s poor families were headed by women. Child, elder, and health services help women care for their families, while homeless shelters and domestic violence programs provide needed refuge for women and their families in unstable circumstances. As a result, when human services are cut from city, state, and federal budgets, women and children are hit especially hard.
As the primary informal caregivers in the United States, women rely on child and elder care services to allow them to enter the work force and stay there. New York State is home to over 1.3 million working mothers with children under six with full-time child care ranging from $9,000 to $13,650 annually. Since the last fiscal year, however, New York State has cut $4.7 million in total funds from the Advantage After-School program, which provides three hours of after-school activities for school-age children. And although women comprise the majority of CUNY and SUNY students, the state has cut a total of $13 million from CUNY and SUNY child care centers. Governor Cuomo’s FY13 Budget Plan offers no restorations for these cuts to child care programs.
Human services also keep women and their families alive and healthy. Since the recession began, there has been a 72 percent increase in the incidence of domestic violence in the Northeast, and domestic violence homicide rates have increased 24 percent in New York. Nonetheless, this year state funding for non-shelter domestic violence services** was set to lose $939,000. Although the enacted budget has restored this cut by allocating $1.5 million for non-shelter services, this only restores half of the funding cut since FY09.
At the city level, FY12 City Council Restorations are set to expire on June 30, 2012, at which point the Domestic Violence and Empowerment (DOVE) initiative could lose $2.5 million in funding for programs such as prevention and empowerment workshops and legal advocacy for domestic violence victims. $8.6 million in City Council Restoration funding will also expire for health initiatives, including asthma control, HIV/AIDS support for faith-based communities and communities of color, rapid HIV testing, and infant mortality reduction. This will have an even greater impact on women and communities of color, for whom asthma and HIV rates are disproportionately high. The City Council continues to restore vital funding, but has limited resources to restore all the cuts proposed by the Mayor. As if these current cuts weren’t enough, the Mayor’s proposed FY13 budget slashes more than $7 million from HIV/AIDS prevention and STD screening services as well as early intervention support programs for infants and young children with developmental delays.
In tough economic times, we are told that budget cuts are a necessity. But it seems that the brunt of these cuts hurt women. Without child and elder care, working women are kept out of the workforce, and without health, domestic violence, and homeless support services, their lives and those of their children are greatly endangered.
Contributed by Ana Billingsley of the Human Services Council
* The official definition of poverty in the United States is determined through the Census Bureau, which sets thresholds for family income based on family size and the age of family members. If a family’s total income falls below the poverty threshold that applies to them, the family is considered in poverty. For example, in 2009 a family with two adults and two children below the age of 18 would be in poverty if their yearly income was below $21,756 (US Census Bureau). However, in 2011 the Census Bureau released a new poverty line measurement that accounts for modern day expenses, revealing that many more Americans live in poverty than previously accounted for.
** Non-shelter services include counseling, legal advocacy, and case management; resources that enable women to permanently escape from physical abuse and avoid entering into emergency shelters.