February 12, 2009

American Women and the Great Recession, Part 2 of 4

On Wednesday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate came to an agreement about the Economic Stimulus and Recovery Package, which will tally $789 billion dollars in total, and hopefully give much-needed aid to states, local municipalities, working people, families, and some individuals who have been hit hardest by this Great Recession. The bill, which President Obama has been urging members of Congress to agree upon and push through all week long, emerges with much controversy still surrounding it, even among some seasoned Democrats who were unhappy with the outcome of Wednesday’s inter-Congressional talks.

Some of these lawmakers feel that too much money was taken from education and social programs as a way to strike a compromise with the Recovery Package’s detractors. Nevertheless, the bill is ostensibly set to move forward in Congress and may even be on the President’s desk - ready to be signed, sealed, and delivered - by as early as Friday.

As I described in Part 1 of this Series, women and families will be greatly impacted by this bill, although it is not clear whether the impacts will be all felt as positive, given some of the current provisions in the Package, and some that were left out.

Originally, the Package had symbolized for many who advocate on behalf of women and families great hope and opportunity: a chance to undo some of the negative effects of misguided policies that characterized the last decade and have resulted in systematic underfunding of key social programs. Several of these social programs that have suffered of late were proven effective, such as food stamps and nutrition programs, at targeting poverty and creating better outcomes for women and children. Although the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which provides food vouchers (stamps) to families in need is actually being strengthened and augmented by the new Economic Recovery Package, other programs which many hoped would slip past the Congressional chopping block did not make it.

For example, the bill includes 87 million dollars in new money for states to offset Medicaid costs that have been continuously rising. The initial House bill, before it was passed by Representatives, contained a provision called the Medicaid Family Planning State Option, which would have allowed states to expand coverage for lower income women and families to access family planning services.

One of the most critical services included in this, contraceptives, has recently experienced a steady spike in costs across communities rich and poor and even on college campuses, and women’s advocates hoped that this provision would remain in the overall Package in order to give assistance to lower income women who cannot afford contraception and other family planning services. However, the provision was removed in an effort to satisfy objections from House Republicans, who ultimately did not vote for the House bill, citing failed negotiations.

Despite these events which some have called sell-outs or setbacks for women during this process, the bill does still include many provisions that should bring about change, growth, and relief in the coming months. For example, although the Package has since its inception caught the ire of critics for its expansion of government programs, thereby increasing the size of government, it should be noted that this action will create jobs which will most likely employ many women, as women are typically highly represented in the public sector.

As a result, it is expected to put men and women on more equitable footing, since the bill also creates “shovel-ready” jobs in construction and infrastructure development that typically employ men. Putting both men and women back to work in the current economic slump will undoubtedly lead to better outcomes for middle and lower-income families.

Much in the same manner as we found ourselves two weeks ago, uncertainty still prevails over exactly what the future will hold for Americans as a result of the Stimulus bill, which has yet to become law. Check back soon for a break-down of the final Package’s implications for women, and some insights into how this will impact us on the ground as these details become more apparent, and policy is finally put into practice.

Written by Emily J. Kronenberger, Policy Analyst at the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities and founder of New Wave Grrrl, a health information and resource sharing blog for women. Emily is a volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project, serves on the Board of Trustees at the Alice Paul Institute and volunteers as the Director of Policy Initiatives at the Younger Women’s Task Force of New Jersey.

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