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Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

Each April public health and civil rights advocates work to raise awareness about the health inequities that continue to impact communities of color in the U.S. Among the health conditions that are usually highlighted are diabetes, HIV/AIDS, certain cancers, mental illness, and obesity. While it’s certainly critical to address the high rates of these conditions in our communities, another persistent minority health issue is often overlooked.

Women of color (WOC) consistently face reproductive health injustices that are rarely discussed in the context of a minority health issue. This topic is usually relegated to the WOC realm of women’s health. But this April, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) is shifting the dialogue about minority health and highlighting the lack of access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion as a very real health crisis for many of our herman@s.

In 1973, the Supreme Court passed the landmark Roe. v. Wade decision, granting women the right to safe and legal abortion. While this was a major victory for the women’s rights movement, the fight for abortion rights did not stop then. In fact, over the years, the right to abortion has been consistently attacked, restricted, and limited at both the state and federal level.

Among the most harmful of the restrictions enacted was the implementation of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion services. Rep. Henry Hyde, author of the Hyde Amendment, said of his intentions for the rider: “I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.”  This rider has been renewed each year for over three decades, and currently, federal funds can only be used in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

The Hyde Amendment was crafted as a deliberate attack on low-income women’s reproductive freedom. Considering that women of color are more likely to be low-income – 24 percent of Latin@s, 27 percent of black women, and 18 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders live below the poverty level – the Hyde Amendment is essentially an attack on women of color’s reproductive rights, by denying them the ability to access affordable abortion. The denial of affordable healthcare that covers abortion is yet another issue on the long list of ways and means used to undermine the bodily autonomy and reproduction of WOC in the U.S.

As a result of the Hyde Amendment, abortion has remained out of reach for many low-income or uninsured women despite it being legalized in 1973. For many of our Latina herman@s, access to affordable abortion has never been an option because they are low-income, uninsured, or don’t have private insurance that covers abortion. The reality is, one in three Latin@s is uninsured, which is higher than other race/ethnic group in the country. Of those that are insured, many rely on federally funded programs for coverage, which don’t cover abortion. Without the ability to afford it, the right to abortion is meaningless.

In fact, the first woman who died as a direct result of the Hyde Amendment was a Latina. Rosie Jiménez was a Latina college student and single mother who had Medicaid coverage. Since the Hyde Amendment had recently eliminated federal Medicaid funding for abortion, Rosie resorted to unsafe abortion because she didn’t have the means to pay for the service out of pocket. She died one week after her abortion in October 1977 due to complications from an unsafe procedure. Harrowing as it is, Rosie’s story is not unique. Each year tens of thousands of people are denied access to affordable abortion because of the Hyde Amendment. Although not every person’s story ends tragically, many people’s lives are greatly impacted by the financial burden of paying for an abortion or having to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

For Latin@ immigrants, access to affordable abortion can be even more difficult due to many factors including, high rates of uninsurance, cultural and linguistic barriers, lack of information about abortion in the U.S., immigration status, and poverty.

It’s undeniable: the Hyde Amendment hurts women. Moreover, the Hyde Amendment hurts WOC, who are disproportionately low-income, making this not only a women’s health issue, but a minority health issue as well. This National Minority Health Month let’s raise awareness of all health inequities, including the ability to access to safe and affordable abortion.

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Post By Nicole Catá

Originally from Cortlandt, NY by way of Flushing, NY, Nicole Catá now studies at The George Washington University Law School and the Elliott School of International Affairs.  During her time as an undergraduate student at Columbia University, she worked from January to August 2010 as a policy and advocacy intern at the Latina Institute.  Nicole spent this summer as a legal intern at National Advocates for Pregnant Women and will work this fall as a student attorney for the International Human Rights Clinic at GW Law School.  Nicole will serve as the president of GW Law School’s chapter of Law Students for Reproductive Justice during the 2013-14 school year.

Birth Justice as a Matter of Reproductive Justice

With news of Prince George’s birth dominating the Internet, it may be helpful to highlight the lived realities of birthing experiences in the United States for women of color. Given that the royal birth cost $15,000, whereas the average cost of birth in the United States is $30,000, you have to wonder whether we’re getting what we pay for.  For poor, uninsured women of color in the United States, too often the answer is “no.”

Last year, Denene Millner published a piece called “Birthing While Black” that details the abysmal treatment she received at an upper Manhattan hospital while delivering her first daughter.  Despite having paid for “upgrades” to secure the birth experience she had envisioned, Millner catalogues a litany of maltreatments she experienced the moment her baby was born.  For example, she describes as follows:

Once in the private room, the nurses disappeared for nine hours! Seriously. Nine. I had no diapers. No idea how to breastfeed properly (and no bottle or milk to feed my baby if I chose to formula feed). No instructions on what to do to care for my post-birth body (was it okay to walk? Pee? Wash?). Nothing. I seriously thought I was being punished for asking (nicely) for what I’d paid for. When a nurse finally did show up, she came with a “gift bag” full of formula and coupons for… formula.

Millner’s piece highlights the injustices too often leveled against women of color on what should be the happiest days of their lives.  The notion that she was treated so poorly after having paid for hospital upgrades speaks volumes about what poor, uninsured women of color face when giving birth in many hospitals around the country.

We know that everyone deserves access to high-quality health care, that birth justice is a matter of reproductive justice, and that health and dignity are human rights.  Millner reminds us that everyone deserves to be treated like royalty during and after their birthing experiences.

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A leading anti-choice researcher recently made some remarks at the Values Voters Summit (as if the rest of us don’t vote our values? but I digress!) that stray from the traditional anti-choice talking points, explicitly stating that increasing the cost of an abortion means that less women are able to get the procedure:

You can defund abortion by stopping Medicaid funding or by defunding Planned Parenthood. You can strengthen parental-involvement laws, by requiring both parents to be involved. You can strengthen informed-consent laws: Require the woman to see an ultrasound, or require two trips to the clinic. That raises the costs; that stops the abortion from happening.

Well, that is unfortunately true. Though generally the proponents of obstacles to abortion care – such as waiting periods, ultrasounds, etc. – frame these barriers in terms of giving women time to think, or “information,” or whatever they can muster that betrays their deep distrust of women to make informed decisions on their own, these revelatory remarks tell us that anti-choicers know exactly what they are doing: leaving access to abortion only for the wealthy.

Of course, reproductive justice advocates have known for a long time that the brunt of the weight of abortion restrictions falls on Latinas and other women of color, who are disproportionately poor. In fact, wealth has always facilitated access to abortion, even before Roe, when women who had the resources to do so flew to Sweden and Puerto Rico to get their procedures. The reality is today, and it always has been, that access to safe and legal abortion is an economic justice issue. Everything from waiting periods, to the added cost of an ultrasound, to the fact that federal Medicaid funds cannot go towards abortion hits low-income women and women of color the hardest. And the anti-choice movement knows exactly what they are doing.

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The extension on unemployment benefits passed on February 17th was generally seen as a positive development for struggling and low-income families – Congress passed a year-long extension of the benefits, which are crucial to making ends meet for folks who are looking for work. Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. Hidden in the bill was a provision to restrict where TANF recipients (i.e. recipients of cash assistance, also known as welfare) can get money out.

These days, folks who get cash assistance get a card that works as an ATM card, and are able to go to any ATM to remove available funds. Well, that is until now – Congress’s restriction bans recipients from using ATMs in liquor stores, casinos, and strip clubs. This measure is paternalistic, insulting, and absurd in so many ways. First, this provision ignores the fact that although it might be difficult to find something as run of the mill as a grocery store in low-income neighborhoods, there are actually significantly more liquor stores there than in wealthier neighborhoods. Did the legislators that proposed this measure stop to think that perhaps the closest ATM to many recipients of cash assistance might actually be in one of these establishments? Or that they may be the closest ATMs with low fees?

Further, we need to address the wackness of trying to restrict poor folks’ purchases. Often ignored in conversations about welfare are is that TANF recipients actually required to work – 35 hours a week in “training” programs that don’t really train anyone to do anything that’s going to get them out of poverty or even a job that pays above minimum wage, but that’s a conversation for another day. The point is that TANF recipients work, and do so for small amounts of cash assistance which, if you do the math, represents just a fraction of the minimum wage. So here we’ve got folks that are basically working for below-minimum-wage pay, and Congress wants to restrict where they’re able to get that money out based on a racialized idea of lazy welfare queens drinking their days away. Would Congress ever think to try to restrict the purchases of other workers?

Latinas and women of color are disproportionately poor, and this affects women of color and our families most of all. This is not only absurd, it is racist, and it is unnecessarily intrusive into the lives of low-income folks. If Congress is truly concerned with addiction among poor folks, can we see them invest in quality rehabilitation programs? Can we see them invest in the lives of women? Can we see them address the painful social and economic conditions that addicts are trying to numb? Economic justice is reproductive justice – all women deserve to live their lives with dignidad, salud, y justicia.

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Since welfare “reform” in 1996, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has presented a variety of challenges to economically marginalized communities, including communities of color and single mother-led households. Rather than serve as a safety net to help catch those who are in danger of falling into poverty, TANF’s harsh work requirements, increasingly strict time limits, and punitive treatment of childbearing have contributed to pushing people in marginalized communities over the edge. Many of the program’s shortcomings were apparent from the outset, but the economic downturn has caused federal and state budgets to contract and demand for safety net programs to rise—combined with shrinking political will, the economic situation over past few years has created a perfect storm for showcasing TANF’s structural problems. And while TANF reform—not just reauthorization or extension—is pretty much off-the-table for 2011, it is on our wish list for 2012.

As it currently stands, TANF has not been reauthorized since the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which was signed in February 2006 and funded the TANF block grant through September 2010. The program was extended through September 2011 without the TANF Emergency Fund; then it was extended through the end of 2011, this time without funding for the program’s supplemental grants. The loss of the supplemental grants has been devastating for many Latinas. TANF is funded through a block grant, which means that states receive a fixed sum of money for the program, rather than an amount of money that changes based on demand. The supplemental grants provided additional funding to states with quick population growth and historically low welfare payments. Texas, for instance, has had the highest population growth of any state over the past decade, and Latinos account for about two-thirds of this growth and now make up almost 40% of the state’s population. Meanwhile, the state’s TANF benefits for a single-parent family of three while the supplemental grants still existed were only sufficient to bring the family to between 10 and 20% of the federal poverty level (FPL); TANF and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often called food stamps) together brought the same family to just over 50% of FPL. With the loss of the supplemental assistance grant, Texas stands to lose approximately $50 million per year, reducing its ability to provide benefits to needy Texans, at a time when need is high and assistance levels are already inadequate.

(more…)

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