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To Balance California's Budget, Share the Burden

Women became increasingly vulnerable to job loss as the recession wore on. From 2006-2009, the unemployment rate for California's women doubled from 5 percent to 10 percent.
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This Friday, May 14, Governor Schwarzenegger releases his revised budget and from all projections it will contain some very tough recommendations. Last Friday, State Controller John Chiang reported that revenues fell $3.6 billion short of what was projected in April. That means that California's budget deficit may even surpass original estimates.
Faced with tough choices, what we do now will have a big impact on the health, safety and economic security of Californians for years to come. The one thing we must do is create a budget that protects California's women and their families who are struggling to make it through these tough economic times.

Yet, three reports funded by the Women's Foundation of California, and released this week from the California Budget Project (CBP), warn that the Governor's proposals will do the opposite. Taken together, the reports make crystal clear that many women and their families have been pushed to the edge due to the combined one-two punch of lost jobs and a safety net eroded by the last several years of budget cuts and changes in public policies.

No one escaped the effects of the 27-month recession, and much has been deservedly said about the impact of job loss on men during the recession. CBP's report, aptly titled, How the Other Half Fared: The Impact of the Great Recession on Women, sheds light on how the recession affected women. CPB finds that women became increasingly vulnerable to job loss as the recession wore on. From 2006-2009, the unemployment rate for California's women doubled from 5 percent to 10 percent -- its highest level in a generation. California's single mothers were hit particularly hard. Their unemployment rate is nearing 15% (one in six single mothers). Many women lost access to health coverage as a result of their own or their spouse's job loss, and married women (typically earning less than their husbands) increasingly became the sole breadwinners for their families.

The Project's two other briefs focus on the disproportionate impact of budget cuts on women and families. Women make up more than three out of five adults enrolled in the major safety-net programs -- the CalWORKs Program, the Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) Program, and the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) Program -- programs that help low-income women support their families, find jobs, and help those who are elderly or have disabilities remain safely in their homes. CBP's report, The Governor's Proposed Cuts to Key Safety-Net Programs Would Disproportionately Affect Low-Income Women and Their Families focuses on these cuts. The second report The Governor's Proposed Cuts to Medi-Cal Would Significantly Affect California's Low-Income Women and Their Families looks at effects on health.

While the recession has resulted in prolonged unemployment for millions, the social services and cash assistance that provided critical lifelines to those who have lost their salaries and health insurance have been steadily cut to the bone. Prior to this recession, women supporting children on their own could turn to cash assistance to provide transitional support. Recent cuts compounded by the Governor's proposed cuts significantly reduce the assistance available and shorten the amount of time people can receive this assistance. Single mothers, often with less work experience and education, become the first fired and the last hired.

In working with our grant partners, the Women's Foundation of California has seen and heard from women about the severe rise in homelessness, the increased number of families living 2-3 in one apartment, women who report that they do not eat so that their children can eat, and the many who defer dental and medical care because they can't afford it.

The governor's budget would further erode the already shredded safety net these families depend upon. For example, it would reduce payments to programs that provide child care to women who are transitioning from public assistance to work, slash Medi-cal, which provides comprehensive health care to low-income women and families, and cost the jobs of nearly 300,000 women who provide vital in-home care to low-income seniors and people with disabilities.

The governor proposed an all-cuts budget in January. Cuts to vital services will only increase the number of people without health insurance, diminish our workforce's capacity, and further strain local governments and service providers. The economic costs would be high. Instead, we can choose to reject an all-cuts budget and approve a budget that includes reductions in spending, federal aid and additional revenues. Let's look at repealing tax cuts, extending temporary tax increases, and maximizing the federal dollars we can bring to the State so as to more fairly share the burden of balancing the budget. We all need to ask ourselves what kind of California to we want. Do we want a California where the rates of poverty continue to grow and the face of poverty becomes increasingly female? Or, do we want a California where we protect those in greatest need? Together we can ensure that we're planting the seeds for generations to come to enjoy a California where all residents can be healthy, safe and economically secure.

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