Women at Greatest Risk as Budget Crisis Continues

Still without a state budget, I have to say that Illinois is not only the worst state for affordable childcare, but it is quickly becoming an unsafe place for women and girls.
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Last November I wrote that Illinois was the worst state for affordable childcare. The state did not have a budget and in efforts to reduce spending, Governor Bruce Rauner attempted to cut the Child Care Assistance Program. Thankfully, after advocates and activists rallied, the Governor amended the emergency ruling. Fast-forward seven months and now, still without a state budget, I have to say that Illinois is not only the worst state for affordable childcare, but it is quickly becoming an unsafe place for women and girls.

A recent report from the Responsible Budget Coalition reveals that the state budget crisis - which has been going on for nearly a year now - puts women, particularly, at risk.

Nearly seven out of ten workers in Illinois employed in the nonprofit sector are women. Many of these organizations, including a number of Chicago Foundation for Women's grantees, receive state funding to provide crucial services such as breast cancer screenings, domestic violence support and counseling, trauma therapy, and housing. That absence of funding not only means that programs are being cut, but staff face the threat of being let go, if they have not already been given the pink slip. For some, the situation is even more dire. If there is no approved budget or a release of funds by July, some organizations will have to close their doors permanently. So women who are in desperate need of support to escape sometimes dangerous situations can no longer access important resources, but the women who help them will now be included among our state's most vulnerable.

Consider this: female-headed households account for 78 percent of families that depend on the state's Child Care Assistance Program. And those same households are also more likely to rely on food and nutritional assistance through the SNAP program. When those vital resources are threatened or cut completely, that makes it more difficult for mothers to work and get ahead. Child care assistance allows for working mothers to take on extra hours or advance their education. Addressing that crucial need means a mother may not have to decide between paying for groceries or keeping the lights on.

And finally, it is generally held that education is a pathway out of poverty. Well, 54 percent of undergraduate students at Illinois public colleges and universities are women. Nearly two-thirds of recipients of state MAP grants (now cut) are women, according to the budget coalition. If those schools - such as Chicago State University, which is a more affordable and accessible option for young women and working mothers - close permanently, these women will lose that pathway to meaningful work and decent wages.

Social service agencies and nonprofits have spent years building an infrastructure so that women and families have a fighting chance against poverty, discrimination, and violence. We must consider the long-term effects of this crisis. It will not only be on women, but on entire communities. We cannot allow decades of progress and success to be undone in just a year's time.

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