Yesterday was the first day of Obamacare and the first day of a government shut down. Despite Republicans insistance that Democrats are “focused on birth control and sex rather than making sure the government doesn’t shut down,” it’s becoming clear that women will be harmed regardless of what path the GOP takes.
Defunding Obamacare will undo the enormous advantages women would receive under the Affordable Care Act: the end of paying extra for insurance just because we are women, being able to receive no copay contraception and sterilization, better access to health care for low income women at all points in our lives (not just when we are pregnant and require prenatal care, as many state Medicaid funds currently require), and even being able to access coverage without needing insurance through an employer, a problem for so many women who are low wage earners.
But shutting down the government is just as likely to overly impact women, especially if the fight drags on. Here’s how:
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1. Cutting off WIC
The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infant and Children (WIC) is meant to provide supplemental food support to low income women who have children under the age of 5. Best known for its push to offer milk and formula for families in need, the WIC program has provided services to approximately 9 million people a month. Although the programs are run on a state basis, they rely on government funding and oversight. While some may be able to weather a shut down for a bit, others aren’t so ready. Utah has already announced it is not able to take new applicants. Sorry, low income families, but the GOP thinks you are collateral damage.
2. Head Start
There are 11 states that didn’t get their federal grants, meaning almost 20,000 children will not be able to access their Head Start programs. The news is devastating for the kids themselves, who already have to fight poverty from standing in the way of their educational success. But it’s even worse for the parents who work, who now will either have to go without pay to care for their children or hire someone so they can make it to their jobs, cutting into already meager incomes either way. Of families led by single mothers, over 40% of them are in poverty.
3. A furlough would massively impact women‘s earnings
As part of the shutdown, all “non-essential” government employees will be forced to take unpaid time off, with no promise of back pay. A large portion of administrative and professional government jobs are held by women, and they are traditionally still paid at a lower rate than men. Also, less employees heading into their jobs or more workers worried about their next check means less discretionary spending. For the waitresses, food workers and retail workers that would normally assist them, that means a drop in tips and commissions, or even potential layoffs. Wage earners in these areas are disproportionately female.
4. Home and business loans grind to halt
Most single first time home buyers are women, and women are creating new businesses at a higher rate than men. Now both of those will be slowed down since the shutdown means that new loans for homes and businesses will be on hold if they are backed by the federal government. So much for the GOP promoting job creation.
5. No new Social Security applicants
If you are already on Social Security, you are probably good for a while. If you need to apply for benefits, however, you may be stuck until the shutdown is over, since enrollment isn’t considered an essential service. Women are more likely than men to rely on Social Security for most, if not all, of their income, and the program serves a large number of disabled workers, especially women and especially women of color. With no ability to enroll these women and their families, they will not be able to access what for many in their situation is literally their only lifeline.