As Women’s History Month comes to a close, the impact the state budget has on women was examined at a Women and Girls Foundation forum.
Slightly more than 51 percent of Pennsylvania’s population is made up of women, according to U.S. Census data. The state budget affects every resident of the state, but some argue that budget cuts to certain areas disproportionately affect women, especially women of color.
“Pittsburgh ranks at the bottom of the heap in terms of poverty for women and girls," said Jessie Ramey of public education advocacy group Yinzercation. "We have the highest rate of poverty among working-age African Americans, in particular, of all 40 of the largest metropolitan regions in this country.”
Ramey said education is a key issue that affects women and girls and can help lift them out of poverty.
Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget increases funding for education, but Ramey said the increase doesn’t fill the gap left when funding was slashed in 2011.
Overall spending for women has been declining in the state for the five years the group has kept track.
Budget impacts on women were determined by examining issues such as education, homeless programs, access to housing and domestic violence prevention and healthcare, said Tara Simmons with the Women and Girls Foundation.
“The largest decline in spending in this last year’s budget occurred in health programs, which were reduced from $636 per woman in 2011-2012 fiscal year to $495 spent per woman in fiscal year 2012-2013,” she said.
In addition to access to health care, transportation is another area that has an impact on women, especially transit.
“This is a system that is extremely vital to women and single mothers and single heads of households in the region," said Chris Sandvig, regional policy director with the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group. "Having said that, it’s also a system that is extremely vital to the economy of the region. Our region does not function, no region functions without a viable transit system.”
Sandvig said massive budget cuts for transit were avoided in the region and statewide this year, but a sustainable funding formula for the future is essential.
“It’s not just a matter of somebody being able to catch a bus," Sandvig said. "It’s a matter of whether or not that person can live a productive life, can contribute to society, whether or not their children have a shot in the work, whether or not their children are able to get an education or whether or not their children end up in the corrections system. I hate to be that dire about it, but that’s one of the issues that we face if adequate funding for transit doesn’t exist."
The panel discussion at the Women and Girls Foundation drew a crowd that included state and local elected officials. State Rep. Erin Molchany addressed the group and echoed concerns about education funding, among other things.
The debate on the state budget is ongoing. Lawmakers have until June 30 to approve it.