Here in Washington D.C. we are in the middle of extreme budget cut talks that couldn’t be more misguided than if discrimination was the stated goal. As a legal fellow at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, I have been participating in a coalition to raise the voices of women of color in these conversations.
In the past year, women have suffered non-stop scapegoating, of which women of color have born the brunt. For example, the House introduced their first attack on women’s reproductive freedoms, H.R. 3, only one week into their session, which, as it has turned out, was only the first of many bills seeking to harm women’s access to reproductive care. These cuts have been received favorably and some even passed the House, despite the fact that they would clearly add to our nation’s debt based on the well known data that every $1 spent on family planning saves $4 in unintended costs. Furthermore, women of color’s fertility continues to be characterized by images of “anchor” and “terror” babies without so much the blink of an eye. In fact, we even see environmental activists jumping on the bandwagon in blaming women of color for environmental damage based on their reproduction, ignoring the fact that small wealthy families likely have extensive environmental footprints. Amazingly, the rhetoric also takes a phenomenal leap from painting women as powerful agents of demise to then depicting us as helpless victims in billboards springing up around the country.
Because these scapegoating exercises have been largely successful, as demonstrated by relatively little public outrage, this technique is now being used to shape proposals to “trim” our budget, a “win” for all politicians involved.
We all know that there are many ways to trim the federal budget without harming women of color. Military and security spending, for example, have cost $7.6 trillion since September 11, 2001, but the government recently voted to maintain that spending while cutting funding for education, labor, environment and health programs. In a subsequent vote, the House agreed to even deeper cuts to programs that support vulnerable communities including women of color, but maintained defense spending levels that remain 20% above the last peak during the 1980s. In addition, instead of allowing tax cuts for the wealthy to expire last year, the government extended them, which passed up $700 billion in revenue that could have been collected from the top 2% of earners.
Besides defense spending and tax cuts for the wealthy, the nations’ growing xenophobia problem is causing an enormous increase in the amount we spend on immigration enforcement. For example, as the Center for American Progress points out, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement budgets increased by 80% to $17.1 billion in fiscal year 2010 from $9.5 billion in FY 2005.” This is a needlessly growing industry that is critically harming our communities while simultaneously bankrupting our country. Unfortunately, however, costs that target immigrant communities continue to rise and President Obama recently explained:
We now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than any time in our history…the border patrol has 20,000 agents – more than twice as many as there were in 2004…we tripled the number of intelligence analysts working at the border…I’ve deployed unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the skies from Texas to California.
Despite their astronomical costs to our country, programs that benefit the wealthy and harm our communities fail to face any serious scrutiny under the budget talks.
So if these programs aren’t on the chopping block, what is?
You guessed it: cuts that harm women, disproportionately women of color. One of the biggest targets is Medicaid, a program that helps the poorest among us. Importantly, “because of the racialized poverty in the U.S., women of color disproportionately rely on [Medicaid].” The program remains squarely in negotiations despite the fact that it is already an extremely lean program that struggles to adequately cover recipients. In fact, it would be exceedingly difficult to cut Medicaid without disrupting critical services. Despite this, Medicaid now faces the same scapegoating fight that other women’s issues have fallen prey to this year. While women of color and immigrant women are portrayed as undeserving of “government handouts” the wealthy continue to collect.
My question is: when does the general outrage begin?
Congress has already responded to predominantly middle class white Americans who were outraged at proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Because of that outrage, we have seen an about-face in Congress’ attacks on those programs. Likewise, this same outrage is needed to protect Medicaid. Those who depend on Medicaid should express their concern in any way they can including phone calls, letters, posting their story to websites like Moms Rising or signing onto e-alerts. I have heard directly from congressional offices that they aren’t hearing from Medicaid recipients at the same level they are hearing from recipients of other programs. So this contact is critical.
Because by definition, Medicaid recipients are low-income and struggling to make ends meet, it is extremely hard for many in that program to find the resources it takes to speak directly to their members of congress. It is important that all Americans stand up against scapegoating women of color and show outrage at what has become a cover-up blame game rather than a solutions-based discussion. If it is the budget we are trying to fix, rather than scapegoats we are trying to create, then we need to start with wasteful and harmful programming, not Medicaid. These cuts must be fair and respect the dignity of all and must not expect one group to bear the burden for a crisis they did not create.
This post is part of the MomsRising Medicaid Blog-a-thon.