The Honorable John Boehner
The Honorable Harry Reid
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
The Honorable Mitch McConnell
The U.S. Congress Capitol Building
Dear Mr. Speaker, Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader Pelosi, and Minority Leader McConnell:
We, the undersigned members of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO), write to express our grave concern about the impact of deep budget cuts on women. We are alarmed both at the extent of proposed funding reductions in social safety net programs and at the extreme measures being discussed to drastically reduce federal spending for the long term. If adopted, such measures could reverse our economic recovery, increase already high levels of unemployment, and severely restrict the federal government's ability to help those who are vulnerable.
From what we understand about the proposed budget cuts, those most vulnerable –women, low-income earners, children, and seniors—will suffer the brunt of the spending cutbacks. Millions of women depend on government programs to keep them from falling into poverty; millions more rely on government employment and are in jobs dependent on government spending.
While men have recovered 24 percent of the jobs they lost during the recession, women have recovered only 14 percent of the jobs they lost. The federal government’s failure to create a robust jobs program means that many more women will lose their jobs as state and local governments reduce their workforces. Now more than ever, older women need the support of programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Many women cannot find employment at older ages, do not have pensions, and have been unable to save sufficiently because of time spent in caregiving, wage discrimination, and other factors.
The average monthly Social Security check for women is about $1,000, and a substantial proportion of retired women –particularly the very elderly and widowed – do not have any other source of income and exhaust their savings in later years. These factors make proposed changes such as raising the full retirement age for Social Security extremely harmful to older women, who rely on the program for a greater share of their income than older men. Women of color, who experience an even larger wage gap, are especially at a disadvantage when the retirement age is raised. Combined with rising premiums for Medicare Part B, an increase in the full retirement age would result in benefits replacing a smaller portion of recipients’ past earnings, forcing them to forcing them to reduce their standard of living substantially, since many simply do not have other income.
Some political leaders have recently proposed using the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) in determining Social Security and other benefits, mistakenly calling it a more accurate measure of inflation to calculate the cost-of-living adjustment in benefits. In fact, living costs have been rising faster for seniors because they spend more on medical care, and health care costs have increased more rapidly in recent decades than the costs of other goods and services. Switching to the chained CPI would add to the financial burden many retirees face by reducing monthly Social Security benefits, an especially problematic change for older Americans because other sources of income decline with age.
Women would also suffer from proposed budget cuts to Medicaid and other crucial social services. Medicaid covers 70 percent of those in nursing homes, including the disabled and elderly; most residents of nursing homes are women. Moreover, if cuts to Medicaid and Medicare occur, women will bear the brunt of caregiving, taking even more time off from work to care for children and elders—which will reduce their future Social Security benefits. Women also would be significantly affected by cuts to vital programs and services such as family planning, work training, child care, schools, and education.
We urge policymakers working on the budget negotiations to place women’s circumstances and concerns at the center of their analysis and response. This means developing a robust jobs program to address the difficulties women face, especially now as a result of the lagging recovery. It means acknowledging the real causes of the federal budget deficit—two unpaid-for wars, an unpaid-for prescription drug program, continued tax breaks for the richest Americans and a debilitating recession that resulted in massive job loss and lost revenues to governments at all levels. It means examining revenue enhancers as a means of reducing the federal debt. And it means finding ways to safeguard and strengthen the social programs that will help ordinary people recover from the extraordinary recession.
The National Council of Women’s Organizations, composed of more than 240 organizations representing more than 12 million women, expresses its concern for all women—especially older and low-income women—in the face of the upcoming budget decisions by launching a new social media campaign, “Respect, Protect, Reject.” The campaign aims to highlight the vital importance of reaching a budget result that will:
Respect women’s contributions to the economy and their need for economic security.
Protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and programs that disproportionately serve and employ women.
Reject budget plans that threaten the economic security of women.
We strongly urge policymakers to craft a national budget that will fulfill these goals.