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New Report on Effects of Budget Cuts

July 13, 1986|JANICE MALL

The Washington-based Coalition on Women and the Budget has issued its annual bad news. As in each year for the past five years, its report is titled "Inequality of Sacrifice," and deals with how the burdens of federal budget cuts are disproportionately borne by women and children, and especially by those who are already poor.

The new report stressed the cumulative effect of several years of deep cuts in domestic programs. Women are not approaching the newest round of budget trimming in very good shape--in 1985, women and children composed 75% of the poor, and more than half of all children who live in families headed by women are poor. Since 1980, almost 2 million people in families headed by women have sunk below the poverty level.

The expected fiscal 1987 budget cuts, which could be as much as $5 billion--on top of $50 billion in cuts in these programs since 1981--would have a "devastating impact on women's economic security," the coalition report said. "The cost of this budget is too great. For five years, women, especially the poorest, have shouldered a disproportionate burden of federal budget reductions and have sacrificed more than their fair share. As a result, women and children now make up the fastest-growing poverty group in the country, and their condition is worsening every year."

Cuts of $9 Billion Sought

The Reagan Administration asked for cuts of $9 billion in programs the coalition described as important to women. While Congress rejected reductions of this amount in domestic programs when it passed the budget June 27, there will still be significant funding cuts to be determined when appropriations are made. "It's a compromise budget in that defense was not built up as much as originally asked for and domestic programs were not cut as much as asked for," said Chris DeVries of Federally Employed Women, co-chairman of the steering committee for the Coalition of Women and the Budget. This is essentially what has happened every year, she said. Domestic funding ends up somewhere in the middle between the large reductions the Administration asks for and the amount the agencies had gotten the previous year.

The coalition has not yet analyzed how the final budget will affect women, but one thing is for sure: All the programs will be cut, DeVries said. The question is only how much.

Among the programs facing funding reductions that affect the health and welfare of children:

--Food stamp and child nutrition programs, which provide subsidized and free lunches to needy children in school and day-care programs; 84% of the people who receive this aid are women and children. The Administration had proposed a cut of $1 billion for fiscal 1987.

--The women, infants and children program, which provides food supplements and health care to low-income pregnant and nursing women and their babies. This program currently reaches fewer than half the families who are eligible. If Congress accepts the Administration request for a $14-million cut when it makes the appropriation, 30,000 needy mothers, infants and young children would be eliminated from the program next year.

--Aid to Families With Dependent Children (93% of recipients are female-headed families) is facing a reduction. The Reagan proposal was for almost a quarter of a billion dollars. This program currently does not meet the needs of poor families, the report pointed out. In 1984, only 55% of children living in poverty received this aid, representing a drop from 75% in 1978 before the Reagan fund reductions began.

Among the Proposals

Among the proposed ways of dropping more AFDC recipients would be to deny eligibility to teen parents who do not live with their parents and to cut off families whose youngest child has reached 16.

--Cuts in federal funding for child-support enforcement programs in the states by $41 million (from $771.5 million to $729 million) have also been proposed. Non-payment of child support is regarded as one of the primary reasons female-headed families are poor; about half of the families entitled to support receive part or none. The federal program provides matching money to the states for their enforcement programs. The Administration has also proposed new requirements to improve state enforcement efforts.

Programs having to do with education and employment for women that will be cut include the Job Corps, the Job Training Partnership Act, the Summer Youth Employment Program and the Women's Educational Equity Act.

Of these, the Women's Educational Equity Act, the only federal program aimed at improving educational equity for women and girls, is a particular target. The Administration has proposed to eliminate it in every budget since 1981, but funding has been retained by Congress. Among WEEA's priorities is compliance with Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits sex discrimination in education programs.

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