President Obama’s budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, released March 4, 2014, proposes significant initiatives to expand opportunity, reduce poverty, create jobs, and strengthen the economy for women and their families. The budget proposes substantial new investments in early care and education for children birth to age five that will help more low-income families afford high-quality early learning opportunities for their children. It would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without dependent children, including 6.1 million women, helping these workers lift themselves out of poverty. And it would create a $56 billion “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative,” split evenly between defense and non-defense spending, which would support investments in early learning, job training, paid leave, research, and infrastructure improvements. These valuable investments would be financed by closing some tax loopholes for wealthy individuals and corporations and by an increased tax on tobacco products, which would have the added health benefit of reducing teen smoking. The budget also calls for raising the minimum wage; making improvements in tax credits for low- and moderate-income families permanent; restoring federal unemployment insurance benefits for long-term jobless workers; and enacting comprehensive immigration reform.
Many low-income assistance programs are designed to improve the lives of poor children – and more than half (56 percent) of all poor children live in single-mother families. Four in ten single-mother families, and roughly one in two black, Latina and Native American single-mother families, were poor in 2012.
Women are over two-thirds of the elderly poor, and one in nine women 65 and older was poor in 2012. Elderly women of color and elderly women who live alone are particularly vulnerable: in 2012, roughly one in five black and Latina elderly women, as well as elderly women living alone were poor.
However, the President’s basic budget operates within the tight spending caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 as modified by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. The 2013 budget agreement provided only limited relief from sequestration in FY 2015. The $56 billion in the President’s “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative” represents sufficient funding to replace the sequestration cuts in FY 2015 and 2016. But, even with this additional funding, overall funding for non-defense programs in FY 2015 would be 10 percent below the 2010 level, adjusted for inflation.
What Is Sequestration?
Sequestration, or “the sequester,” refers to a set of automatic, across-the-board cuts required by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. These cuts, totaling about $1.2 trillion (including interest savings) over nine years, began March 1, 2013 and are scheduled to remain in effect through FY 2021. While Social Security benefits and mandatory programs for low-income people (including Medicaid, SNAP/Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program) generally are exempt from sequestration, many discretionary programs that women and their families depend on – such as Head Start, child care, education, and women’s health services – are subject to cuts.
Under a budget agreement reached in December 2013 and FY 2014 appropriations legislation implementing the agreement, approximately $45 billion in FY 2014 sequestration cuts have been replaced with other cuts and revenues, and funding for some affected programs, such as Head Start, has been restored for the remainder of the fiscal year. However, the budget agreement reduced the sequester only slightly for FY 2015 and not at all for fiscal years 2016 through 2021.
These constraints mean that although the basic budget maintains current funding levels for most of the programs women and their families depend on, including implementation of the Affordable Care Act, funding for many programs fails to keep up with inflation. This is especially troubling in light of persistently high poverty and years of freezes and cuts in many programs that have increased unmet needs in many areas. And there are some troubling cuts; for example, the budget would cut funding for low-income home energy assistance by nearly 20 percent, eliminate a program focused on increasing opportunities for women in non-traditional occupations and apprenticeships, and cut funding for the Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor by over 20 percent.
The President’s budget raises needed revenue and promotes tax fairness by closing tax loopholes and limiting tax breaks for very high-income taxpayers. Part of that revenue would be used to pay for the EITC expansion and other initiatives and part would be devoted to deficit reduction. Temporary revenue increases from certain corporate tax reforms would be invested in infrastructure improvements. But, although the budget proposes to close a number of additional corporate tax loopholes, it would devote all of that revenue to lowering corporate tax rates and paying for new or extended corporate tax breaks.
Yet the President’s budget shows that the nation cannot afford to give more tax breaks to corporations; without those revenues, critically needed investments will be severely shortchanged for years to come. After FY 2016, the budget provides no relief from sequestration or the increasingly tight caps imposed by the Budget Control Act. As a result, by 2017, funding for non-defense discretionary programs will be at their lowest level as a share of the economy in over 50 years.
The analysis below examines what the President’s budget would mean for women, especially low-income women and their families, detailing proposed funding levels and policy changes for programs in the following categories:
- Early Learning Initiative & Supports for Children
- Women’s Health
- Tax Assistance for Individuals & Families
- Nutrition Programs
- Income & Work Supports
- Violence Against Women
- Fair Pay
- Education & Training
- Housing Assistance
Technical note: In this report, unless otherwise noted, NWLC compares President Obama’s budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 to “current funding” – that is, the estimated level of funding a program has for FY 2014. All comparisons are made in nominal dollars and do not account for inflation – thus, programs whose funding would be maintained at current levels – and even some with slight increases – would actually lose ground to inflation.
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