Detection lead mammographer Toborcia Bedgood performs an advanced-imaging screening that promotes early detection of breast cancer for low-income patient Alicia Maldonado at The Elizabeth Center for Cancer Detection in Los Angeles, May 6, 2010. (AP/Damian Dovarganes)
Detection lead mammographer Toborcia Bedgood performs an advanced-imaging screening that promotes early detection of breast cancer for low-income patient Alicia Maldonado at The Elizabeth Center for Cancer Detection in Los Angeles, May 6, 2010. (AP/Damian Dovarganes)

If sequestration is allowed to take effect as scheduled on March 1, $1.2 trillion will be automatically removed from the federal budget in across-the-board spending cuts that would potentially reverse our economic recovery. These cuts—which take money out of critical investments in education, public health services and research, disaster preparedness, and national security—would have devastating consequences in communities around the country and would harm all Americans in a number of ways.

Sequestration also institutes several cuts to key public investments that would disproportionately harm women. Low-income women and women of color will be hit hardest by the sequestration.

These are the top five ways in which the sequestration harms women.

Sequestration cuts $424 million from Head Start and Early Head Start

More and more women and single mothers are heading their households, and they are struggling to balance work and motherhood in the absence of a universal child care system. Head Start and Early Head Start provide education, health, and nutrition services to low-income women and their families, and they are critical child care providers for women who could not otherwise afford care for their children. These programs aim to ensure that limited parental income does not get in the way of a child’s early education or inhibit women from being able to work. As soon as sequestration takes effect, however, 70,000 children will be cut from Head Start and Early Head Start programs due to the eliminated funding for the program.

Sequestration cuts $86 million from key women’s health programs

Between two and three women die each day from complications of giving birth. Black women in the United States die in childbirth at three to four times the rate of other racial and ethnic groups. The infant morality rate in the United States is twice as high as that of other wealthy nations, and rates are highest for low-income women of color, who often lack access to quality health care.

Sequestration cuts $4 million from the Safe Motherhood Initiative, which helps prevent pregnancy-related deaths; $8 million from the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program, which provides cancer screenings to low-income women; $24 million from Title X family planning and reproductive health services; and $50 million from the Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant. The cuts to the Maternal and Child Health Services Block grant alone would mean 5 million fewer low-income families would be provided with prenatal health care and other services that help eliminate disparities in infant mortality and maternal health.

Sequestration cuts $29 million from services for victims of domestic violence

More than 6 million women are victims of domestic violence every year in the United States. On average, more than three American women are murdered by their intimate partners every day. The health-related costs of intimate partner violence exceed $5 billion a year.

Sequestration cuts $20 million from the Violence Against Women Act, which funds crucial sexual assault and domestic-violence prevention and intervention services, and nearly $9 million from the Family Violence Prevention Services Act, which is the primary funding stream for shelters that provide housing to women and children who have fled a violent home. Cutting the Family Violence Prevention Services Act alone would mean that 112,190 fewer victims of domestic violence could receive services. The Department of Justice estimates that the cuts to the Violence Against Women Act would prevent 35,927 victims from gaining access to shelter, legal assistance, and services for their children. Cuts would also mean that domestic violence training would be eliminated for 34,248 police officers, prosecutors, judges, and victim advocates. Cutting these critical prevention and intervention services will only increase both the human and economic costs of intimate partner violence.

Nearly 600,000 beneficiaries would be cut from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children

About 16.7 million children in the United States live in food-insecure households, which means they are unable to consistently access the nutritious food necessary to live a healthy life. Sequestration would cut $600 million from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, which helps provide basic food security to poor mothers and their children at a time when the poverty rate for women is at historic highs. WIC provides low-income women and their children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk with supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education.

Many public-sector jobs would be lost, which disproportionately harms women

Nearly two-thirds of mothers are either the breadwinner for their families or share that responsibility with a partner. Women’s wages are therefore critical to both their own and their families’ economic security. According to many estimates, thousands of public-sector jobs would be lost if sequestration occurs, and since women are 50 percent more likely than men to be employed in public-sector jobs—such as those in education—their jobs will be needlessly jeopardized by sequestration.

These cuts would only be the beginning. As the effects of the cuts ripple through the economy, more and more public-sector jobs will be lost, leaving more women unemployed. With such deep cuts to the federal budget, states will be forced to scale back on additional services. This would likely include limiting Medicaid benefits—a critical source of health care for low-income women.

While all Americans would be harmed by these senseless cuts that would throw the country into a manufactured fiscal crisis, no one would be hurt more than low-income women and women of color—and their families. Congress must stop protecting the bank accounts of the wealthiest Americans on the backs of the most vulnerable families in our country. It should act now to prevent sequestration from taking effect on March 1.

Lindsay Rosenthal is a Research Assistant with the Women’s Health and Rights team and the Health Policy team at the Center for American Progress.

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Lindsay Rosenthal

Research Assistant