“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This scripture from Luke 12:34 reminds us that the places we allocate our money reveal what is truly important to us. Our federal budget—the decisions about how we will spend our money—reflects what we choose to value. The federal budget plan crafted by Representative Paul Ryan unfortunately presents a dishearteningly bleak future for women in this country. Low-income women, women of color, and elderly women would be particularly hard-hit if Congress were to accept Ryan’s budget proposal as is.
The Ryan budget proposes balancing the budget by drastically reducing spending on programs that help low-income Americans, particularly women. Women who are heads-of-households and elderly women are especially reliant on programs for low-income people such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Pell Grants which help low-income people attend college, child care subsidies, and school lunch programs. Here are only some of the cuts the Ryan budget proposes to such programs:
- $137 billion from SNAP cuts alone: in FY 2011 women were 62% of non-elderly recipients and 66% of elderly adult recipients
- Up to $125 billion in Pell Grants: in the 2007-2008 academic year, two-thirds of Pell Grant recipients were women.
- At least $150 billion to unspecified mandatory programs serving low-income Americans, which would likely include programs such as Supplemental Security Income; a majority of SSI adult and elderly beneficiaries in 2012 were women
Slashing spending to these programs would have an especially harmful impact on women and their families. Instead, the budget must maintain programs women rely on and add initiatives that proactively work to support women living at the margin.
The Ryan budget also does not sufficiently take into account wages for low-income workers, a majority of whom are women. Although women comprise 47% of the overall workforce, they represent over 76% of workers in the ten largest low-wage jobs. These occupations include childcare workers, cashiers, home health aides, waiters and waitresses, and food preparers. Our current federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) does not provide economic security for women and their families. Unlike other budget proposals, Paul Ryan does not assume an increase in the minimum wage. While the budget itself would not necessarily raise the minimum wage, it is incredibly problematic that Representative Ryan’s fiscal policies are built on assumptions of stagnant wages for the millions of American women struggling to provide for their families. Women need a federal budget that works in conjunction with, rather than against, other legislative policies that support low-wage workers.
One of the most striking components of the Ryan proposal is that it would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has been absolutely instrumental in securing access to basic health care for millions of American women. Women face particular challenges in finding affordable health insurance that covers the range of health benefits they need, and are more likely than men to struggle to pay medical bills. However, the ACA greatly expanded basic primary and preventive health care options for women, including services such as cancer screenings, pap smears, maternal health, pelvic exams, and HIV/STI screenings. Repealing the ACA would cause millions of women who have acquired coverage under the new law to lose their health insurance and access to these services. A more responsible budget would continue to ensure sufficient funding and access for quality health care programs for women.
It was likely not Paul Ryan’s plan to specifically target women. However, when a majority of the beneficiaries of many of the programs he would slash are women, it is hard to see his proposals as anything short of an attack on women. As people of faith we are called to lift up those living at the margins and struggling to make ends meet. Supporting the Ryan budget is certainly not in line with these values, and Congress must seek policies that would better support women’s economic security, health, education, and ability to provide for themselves and their families.