Another front in war on women
berkshireeagle.com,Posted: 04/19/2012 12:06:12 AM EDT, North Adams
I'm talking about the front where the government of Massachusetts takes aim, yet again, at poor women (and their children). The economic recovery has been sluggish and around the country, state governments are slashing budgets. And what a surprise! Programs that primarily serve poor women and their children are at the top of the hit list.
In Massachusetts, the House Committee on Ways and Means has released its budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. While there are a few modest increases in programs that benefit low income families, several other proposals are likely to cause thousands of families to sink deeper into poverty, to become homeless, and/or to become entrapped in (or forced back into) violent relationships they might otherwise leave.
One of the most dangerous proposals is that House Ways and Means (like the governor) proposes an eight month time limit on stays in emergency shelters for homeless families with children. The state verifies that these families have no other safe place to live and the families already have to comply with strict rules in order to remain in the program, but that will be irrelevant -- they will be evicted after eight months even though they have nowhere else to go. Funding for Emergency Assistance that covers these shelter costs will be cut by $14 million.
Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC, what most people think of as "welfare") is also cut in several ways. A long-standing rent allowance for people who do not live in subsidized housing ($40 per month) is eliminated. Another component of the House attack on poor women and children is their cutting of the clothing allowance for those on TAFDC.
This allowance, created in 1981, has stood at $150 per year since 1987! It has stayed the same for a quarter-century, while prices more than doubled (that $150 is now worth $72 in 1987 dollars). While the full allowance was clearly not enough to buy shoes and other necessities for growing children, the House has slashed it in half to $75. We challenge any legislator's family to try getting by on that!
Outside language of the budget (Section 35) would impose outrageous limitations on benefits paid through the electronic benefits transfer system (EBT). These limitations include that TAFDC recipients would not be able to use their benefits to help pay their rent, buy toothpaste or shampoo, or even pay for a child's haircut.
These are just a few examples from the House budget proposal illustrating how we continue to balance the budget on the backs of poor women and children. They reflect several disturbing, but persistent misperceptions. 1) We can't trust poor women with our hard-earned tax dollars. 2) People are poor because of their personal character defects and need to be punished and shamed more than they need to be helped.
Research shows that two out of three adult welfare recipients are currently or formerly battered women. Do we really mean to make it financially impossible for them to leave their abusers or to stay out once they have managed to leave?
If you are as outraged as we are by this particular "front" in the political and economic war on women, contact your state representatives today and ask him or her to support budget amendments #603, #664, and #842. And while you're talking to them, explain that we are tired of sticking it to the poor because we refuse to tax the rich!
The commonwealth needs to increase revenue and the most equitable strategy is to increase taxes on those best able to pay, our high-income residents and large corporations. Neither the governor nor the House has incorporated this tactic into their budget proposals.
Our two neighbors with the largest populations, New York and Connecticut, have graduated income taxes (which tax higher levels of income at higher rates). So do 33 other states and the District of Columbia. For a state that claims to care for equity -- to be a "commonwealth" -- it is long past time for Massachusetts to demand more from those who have benefited the most from our public investments.
Dr. Susan Birns is board president of the Elizabeth Freeman Center and professor of Sociology/Anthropology/Social Work at MCLA. Dr. Brent Kramer is an economist at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and the Fiscal Policy Institute.