24 February 2010

President Obama's Health Care Proposal: Raising Women's Voices Responds

This week, President Obama issued the details of his health care proposal. Raising Women's Voices, a Ms. Foundation movement building and health care grantee issued a response on Monday, highlighting what works and what doesn't, outlining next steps in the process, and emphasizing how crucial it is that organizing for equitable and inclusive health care reform continue:
After a period of uncertainty, this week marks the beginning of a new push by health reform advocates in Washington, D.C. for Congress to pass a bill. The White House posted its proposal today – taking the Senate-passed bill as a base and putting forward a list of changes to improve that bill....

The President’s proposal does not include the changes that Raising Women’s Voices has been urging Congress to make to the restrictive abortion provisions in bill – eliminating the requirement that policyholders would have to make two separate, monthly payments of private dollars to get a policy that includes abortion coverage. Several other elements of the proposal, however, address changes that RWV believes are necessary to ensure a health reform bill that meets the needs of women and families. The President's proposal:
  • Improves on the Senate bill by giving more cost-sharing and premium assistance to low-income families. Improves on the House bill by making health insurance more affordable for middle-income families earning between $55,000-$88,000.
  • Does a better job than the Senate bill did of closing the Medicare prescription drug donut hole, providing immediate assistance to beneficiaries who hit the donut hole in 2010 and closing it completely by 2020.
  • Includes more funding for community health centers than what was in the Senate bill, increasing funding by $11 billion over 5 years.
  • Includes strong new provisions for federal oversight of insurance premium increases and help to states in enforcing and monitoring insurance markets.
  • Extends insurance market protections – like prohibitions on annual and lifetime limits and bans on pre-existing condition exclusions – to the older insurance plans that the Senate bill states individuals may keep if they like them. Also requires those plans to cover proven preventive services with no cost-sharing.
Advocates of health reform – in the Congress, the White House and at advocacy organizations – have said the goal is to get enough agreement coming out of the meeting for Congress to finish health reform. Multiple paths to that goal are still possible, but the one that seems most likely is for a majority of the House and Senate to reach agreement on changes to be made to the Senate bill, for the House to pass the Senate bill and for both bodies to pass a bill that makes the agreed-to changes. If there are a substantial number of Republicans who, after Thursday’s meeting, say that they are willing to support a proposal that also maintains the support of most Democrats, Congress might pursue a different path. But the steps outlined here would not require any Republicans to break with what has been their party’s lock-step opposition to the bills to date.

In the days leading up to Thursday’s meeting, advocates across the country are taking many actions to communicate the urgency of health care reform. RWV regional coordinators in Pennsylvania and Maryland have been working with broad coalitions of advocates on Melanie’s March – from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. Today they were in Baltimore and tomorrow at the University of Maryland in College Park. On Wednesday, they’ll arrive in Washington....

This is a critical time to speak up about what women need from health reform. We have to raise our voices in support of the encouraging elements in the President’s proposal and also let the White House and Congress know that the bill must not set back women's health coverage by restricting or deny access to abortion coverage. Tell the White House that they must show leadership on improving the abortion language in the Senate bill We elected a pro-choice President -- now we have to make sure he knows we’re counting on him to stand up for women! For information on how to reach the White House and additional suggestions on how to deliver these messages to members of Congress, check out the RWV Action Tips.
Read Raising Women's Voices' full response on their blog.

23 February 2010

Economic "Recovery": Women's Lives Demand a Longer, More Honest View

Recently, we discussed how those most struggling amidst today's economic crisis remain the most invisible in polemic or policy responses. Low-income women, particularly those who head households across the country, are chief among the unseen.

With the crisis continually referred to as a "mancession," stories about how women are uniquely or disproportionately affected by the recession -- and longstanding economic insecurity -- have been scarce. Last Friday, the New York Times offered an exception in an article about how low-income African American women are disproportionately subject to eviction:
[In Milwaukee] and in swaths of many cities, evictions from rental properties are so common that they are part of the texture of life. New research is showing that eviction is a particular burden on low-income black women, often single mothers, who have an easier time renting apartments than their male counterparts, but are vulnerable to losing them because their wages or public benefits have not kept up with the cost of housing.
And this was true before the national economic collapse. The Milwaukee study, which found that "women from largely black neighborhoods constitute 13 percent of the city's population...but 40 percent of those evicted," goes back to 2002. And women have represented the majority of low-wage workers for years.

The article paints a devastating picture of economic crisis with a much longer view: in the lives of low-income women and women of color nationwide, insecurity about wages, housing, health care and food have combined to create a cycle of poverty that has long been a reality -- national recession or not.

That said, today's economy is making it even harder to make ends meet. Women who head households across the country are experiencing disproportionately high unemployment rates: in December, their rate was 12.9%, climbing to 15.2% for African American women (in the same month, the national rate was 10%). Last November, the USDA reported that one in three single mothers struggled for food in 2008 and that more than one in seven said someone in their home had been hungry, "far eclipsing the food problem in any other kind of household."

The USDA also reported that most families in which food is scarce contain at least one adult with a full-time job, suggesting, as our grantee Wider Opportunities for Women notes, that low wages as well as job scarcity is a problem. This is especially true for women, who tend to be clustered in low-wage sectors and still -- let's not forget -- make $.77 for every dollar a man does.

A Call for Renewal

So as we hear discussions of what's needed to ensure economic "recovery," let's insist upon taking a longer, more expansive and honest view. Economic insecurity -- crisis, really -- has long been part of the past (though it's certainly worsened by today's recession) for many low-income people, people of color, women, immigrants and others nationwide. And economists say the effects of this recession (more so than others) will last well into the future -- particularly for middle-aged women who face disproportionate rates of long-term unemployment.

In fact, we need to start by questioning what "recovery" means -- and for whom it's intended -- altogether. For example, true "recovery" will require much more than jobs, as crucial as they are. It will require more than an extension of unemployment benefits, which must soon be renewed. It will call for long-term policy changes, like a re-envisioning of quality jobs, subsidized child care, and wage parity. It will demand a look at the inequities that persist and are perpetuated by our economic system. It will require the democratic improvement of all people's lives, not just the privileged few or the financial system. And it will take not just a commitment to recovery, but to long-term renewal.

Sara K. Gould
President & CEO
Ms. Foundation for Women

22 February 2010

Request for Proposals for Economic Justice and ARRA Implementation

The Ms. Foundation for Women is pleased to announce an Open Request for Proposals for Economic Justice and ARRA Implementation.

The passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2009 made hundreds of billions of dollars available for economic stimulus for infrastructure investment, job training and creation, and funds for extending unemployment and emergency benefits, just to name a few. Since then, states and municipalities have exercised wide discretion in choosing which reforms to implement and which funds to accept, and a lack of transparency and accountability has prevented dollars from reaching communities most in need.
The Ms. Foundation’s priority is to ensure that women, particularly low-income women and women of color, who have been disproportionately impacted by the economic recession, benefit to the greatest degree possible from ARRA implementation.
In this Request for Proposals, the Ms. Foundation seeks to complement our overall grantmaking for economic justice by supporting two specific areas of ARRA implementation, both with significant long-term impact on the meaningful participation of low-income women and women of color in the economy:

  • Expanding the availability of affordable child care and improving the quality of child care jobs.

  • Securing training and job set-asides for women in emerging green sectors.

The deadline for all applications is Monday 29 March 2010, 2:00 p.m. EDT.

More details and a full application packet.

See Sara Gould's recent post on ARRA, Child Care, Green Jobs and Grassroots Advocacy.

17 February 2010

Visit and Share the Ms. Foundation's New Website

We're thrilled to announce the launch of the Ms. Foundation for Women's new website! Visit ms.foundation.org for its new and exciting features.
  • See the slideshow on our homepage with photos of the powerful women we support and the communities they build.
  • Read and view Voices From the Field, a multimedia platform to elevate the stories and solutions of our grantees. You will also find the Voices grantee stories in the sidebars throughout the site.
  • Learn more about Our Approach, Our Work and Our Impacts. Find out ways to Get Involved.
And there's so much more!

Create Connections
Help us spread the word about the fantastic work of the Ms. Foundation and our grantees on behalf of women, families and communities. Share the website. Invite friends, family and colleagues to sign up for email alerts. Tell your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for your continued support of the Ms. Foundation. We look forward to creating new and deeper connections with you online.

Sara K. Gould on ARRA Anniversary: Child Care, Green Jobs, Grassroots Advocacy Are Key

Today, on the first anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Sara K. Gould, Ms. Foundation President & CEO, shares her thoughts on the National Council for Research on Women's Real Deal blog about ARRA's impact to date and what else is needed to ensure real and lasting security for women, families and communities. She begins:

ARRA has provided a crucial injection of support to states during the worst of our nation’s current economic crisis. Take child care, for example: several states have used the funding to prevent budget cuts; some have reduced waiting lists for subsidized child care; and others have worked to improve the quality of child-care delivery.

That said, a lack of transparency and accountability has prevented grassroots organizations from accessing ARRA funding and assessing the extent to which it has alleviated economic insecurity in their communities. States have had considerable leeway in choosing which funds to accept and which reforms to implement; as a result, billions of dollars have yet to reach those most in need, especially low-income people, people of color and women.

Moving forward, we can do better. In addition to improving transparency and accountability, there should be a greater role for grassroots organizations who know best how to stabilize local communities. We should also bolster support for grassroots policy advocacy. It’s not enough to keep existing programs afloat; we need to continue to transform policies to make them work better for more people, well into the future. Read More

Sara's post is part of the Real Deal blog's Forum on Economic Recovery Act.

Update (22 February 2010)
The Ms. Foundation announces an open call for proposals for Economic Justice and ARRA Implementation.

12 February 2010

Our Nation's Recovery Depends on Those Most in Need of Jobs

On Tuesday, Bob Herbert wrote a compelling column about how those most affected by today's economic crisis are also the most forgotten. "What you’re not hearing from the politicians and the talking heads," Herbert writes, "is that the joblessness and underemployment in America’s low-income households rival their heights in the Great Depression of the 1930s — and in some instances are worse."

Herbert highlights new data from a Northeastern University study of U.S. households that examined unemployment rates during the last quarter of 2009 by annual household income. Not surprisingly, they found alarming disparities:

The highest group, with household incomes of $150,000 or more, had an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent. ...The unemployment rate of the lowest group, which had annual household incomes of $12,499 or less...was a staggering 30.8 percent. That’s more than five points higher than the overall jobless rate at the height of the Depression.
...When the data about underemployment is factored in...the picture only worsens. In the lowest group, the underemployment rate was 20.6 percent, compared with just 1.6 percent in the highest group.
Herbert is not trying to diminish the impact of the crisis on the middle class. Instead he argues:

The point here is that those in the lower-income groups are in a much, much deeper hole than the general commentary on the recession would lead people to believe. And none of the policy prescriptions being offered by the administration or the leaders of either party in Congress would in any way substantially alleviate the plight of those groups.
We talk about the recession as if all of its victims were suffering equally, and all will be helped by some bland, class-and-category-neutral solution.

That is so wrong.
Herbert is so right. None of the economic recovery policies we've seen thus far sufficiently addresses the urgent needs of low-income people and their communities. This again begs the question advocates have been asking for some time: How will our country recover if we don't respond -- and listen -- to those most affected?

Of course, a significant percentage of those most affected are women, who make up nearly 70 percent of minimum- and below-minimum-wage workers. In fact, "a majority of women workers," according to Ms. Foundation grantee Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), "earn only about two times the federal poverty line, or $20,140 in 2010 for a mother and one child."

Our next opportunity to address the priorities and solutions of low-income people, including low-income women and an especially vulnerable group, households headed by women, is through a comprehensive jobs bill. And as our colleague Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change says, this has to come with an adequate price tag.

Ms. Foundation grantees have already been advocating for a jobs program to meet women's needs. In December, WOW issued "A Women's Agenda for Job Creation" [PDF]. Today, they continue to push for the incorporation of their solutions into the final Congressional bill. WOW has already made progress: their suggested "nonprofit tax credit" [PDF] made its way into President Obama's recent jobs proposal. Now let's see if Congress can improve even further upon the White House plan. And let's remind them that the fate of the entire country is tied to those who need jobs the most.

Sara K. Gould
President & CEO
Ms. Foundation for Women

09 February 2010

Abstinence from Federal Sex-Ed Funding?

And the sex-ed debate continues…

Enter Ross Douthat, a relatively new conservative columnist for the New York Times:

Amidst the release of data revealing a rise in teen pregnancy during Bush’s abstinence-only reign, and a report hailing a (quite different) abstinence-only approach, Douthat has made a totally irresponsible argument against federal funding for any sexuality education -- abstinence-only or not. He doesn't quite claim (though, he almost does) that the debate over “abstinence-versus-contraception” is “pointless,” but says we should “understand it more as a battle over community values than as an argument about public policy.” (What about the value of responsible public health policy?) Apparently he thinks parents should take on the responsibility of imparting their own values to their own children, and that, as is typical of his political stripe, big government should stay out of it. But how many times has this argument been debunked? And how many kids have parents who can provide them with the information they need to make healthy decisions about their sexuality?

Douthat then goes down the ill-fated cultural-relativism path, claiming that we shouldn’t “encourage Berkeley values in Alabama, or vice versa.” Are not all children created equal? Isn’t every child in the U.S., regardless of geography, just as deserving of information that could help her/him lead a productive, successful and healthy life?

Certainly, there is a strong argument to be made for ensuring that states and communities have the resources and power to implement and enforce comprehensive, medically-accurate sexual health standards and curriculum – a focus of the Ms. Foundation’s funding of sexual health advocates across the U.S. But this is not what Douthat is suggesting, and the need for locally oriented support does not negate the importance of federal funding and responsible federal public health policy. We all -- one would hope -- share the value that our youth are our country’s greatest resource and hope. Why would we leave their fate to geographic or familial circumstance or chance?

Read related post: Sex-Ed Debate Picks Up: Teen Pregnancy Climbs, Abstinence Advocates Mistake New Study as Proof

Sex-Ed Debate Picks Up: Teen Pregnancy Climbs, Abstinence Advocates Mistake New Study as Proof

Two newly released studies have added fuel to the debate about our nation’s approach to sexuality education and reducing unintended teen pregnancy: one by the Guttmacher Institute, which reported an increase in teen pregnancy in the U.S. -- the reversal of a long-term decline -- and the other about an abstinence-only curriculum that was shown to delay sexual activity in very young adolescents.

Guttmacher reports that after teen-pregnancy rates began declining in 1990 (due to better use of contraceptives), the trend reversed in 2006 -- not surprisingly, at the depths of the Bush presidency. In fact, says Guttmacher, the decline had already begun to “stall out in the early 2000s, at the same time that sex education programs aimed exclusively at promoting abstinence -- and prohibited by law from discussing the benefits of contraception -- became increasingly widespread.”

Advocates for medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education received the new data as further evidence that abstinence-only programs don’t work. Yet, within a few days, another report was released suggesting that they can. The study, led by Dr. John Jemmott of the University of Pennsylvania, focused on a small group of preteens (average age 12) and demonstrated that a very particular kind of abstinence curriculum helped delay sexual activity for up to 24 months.

Abstinence-only advocates rejoiced, proclaiming the Jemmott study as proof that their approach was correct all along. But what they fail to acknowledge -- and what the press has failed to sufficiently report -- is that the program studied does not at all mirror the abstinence-only programs that received federal funding from the Bush Administration. For starters, the program doesn't even exist yet in schools. Second, instead of an abstinence-only-until-marriage program, the goal of the experimental one was to help young people avoid sex until they were "ready." Finally, the training and curriculum manual, in Jemmott's own words, "explicitly instructed the facilitators not to disparage the efficacy of condoms or allow the view that condoms are ineffective to go uncorrected" -- a significant departure from Bush-funded programs which often disparaged, prohibited, and/or delivered inaccurate information about contraception. The bottom line: the Jemmott study does not provide data to support the failed Bush-era abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

Read Ms. Foundation grantee Advocates for Youth response to the Jemmott study.
Read the Guttmacher report [PDF].
Read the Jemmott study.
Read a related post: Abstinence from Federal Sex-Ed Funding?

05 February 2010

Fixing the Jobs Crisis Demands More Than $100 Billion

Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change explores why a plan for job creation must be larger than $100 billion. In the Huffington Post he writes:
It's not enough when you have the worst unemployment crisis in 70 years with nearly 16 million unemployed Americans and another 9.3 million underemployed. It's not enough when according to economic forecasts the unemployment rate will remain above 8 percent through 2011. It's not enough when 8 million jobs have been completely removed from payrolls since the start of the recession, nearly a million more than previously estimated.
Read the full article, When is $100 Billion Not Enough?.

04 February 2010

A Threat to Reproductive and Media Justice: The Super Bowl Saga Continues

Despite an impressive no-holds-barred campaign led by the Women's Media Center (WMC) and other national organizations, CBS continues to hold on for dear life to the $2.5 million ad revenue promised by the Focus on the Family anti-choice Super Bowl ad. There's been a significant amount of coverage of this dispute in mainstream media, but what seems to be missing is mention of the fact that while yes, this is about reproductive rights and justice, it's about media justice, too.

As we noted before, WMC, Planned Parenthood and other advocates are taking CBS executives to task for overruling a long-held policy "prohibiting advocacy ads, even ones that carry an 'implicit' endorsement for a side in a public debate" in favor of Focus on the Family's harmful, divisive anti-choice message. In 2004, when its anti-advocacy policy was still in place, CBS turned town an ad by the United Church of Christ intended to demonstrate that all people -- including LGBTQ people -- should be welcome in church because it ostensibly promoted gay marriage. Just this year, however, coinciding with their acceptance of the Focus on the Family ad, CBS rejected an ad for a gay dating site and another featuring a "flamboyant" ex-football player because, CBS claimed, it "had the potential to offend a significant number of people." And an anti-choice ad doesn't?

Hypocrisy, bias and dollar signs are written all over this. CBS responded to criticism about the Focus on the Family ad by inviting ads expressing an alternate point of view, seemingly trying to express its neutrality in the abortion debate (or transparently garner more ad revenue -- there's no doubt CBS is struggling). But, as Jehmu Greene, President of WMC, writes, its decision to air the anti-choice ad belies such neutrality, aligns CBS -- and the NFL -- with an incendiary organization, and suggests more dangerous liaisons between conservative groups and corporate media in the future:
CBS' decision to debut its new policy of accepting advocacy ads during the Super Bowl by climbing in bed with a right-wing, anti-woman, homophobic organization -- and the NFL's explicit endorsement -- indicates a clear bias. That this unprecedented break from a longstanding tradition of relative political impartiality comes on the heels of a Supreme Court decision bestowing person-hood on corporations is a real threat to fair representation in the media.
As major networks continue to face declining ad revenue and weakening influence in the media market, who knows what strange -- or likely -- bedfellows they'll seek? Perhaps, Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check writes, with both Focus on the Family and CBS in need of a financial boost, theirs is "a marriage made in conservative heaven." A frightening thought, and a rallying cry for reproductive justice, social justice -- and media justice, now.

Photo: Not Under the Bus

03 February 2010

Don't Give Up on Health Care Justice

Every day seems to bring a new article forecasting the imminent demise of President Obama’s health care reform legislation. The loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat upended the slim filibuster-proof supermajority the Democrats needed to pass the bill safely; television ad spending has slowed from $1 million per day to $1 million per week, signaling a decreased urgency to influence public opinion; and now even solid democratic representatives are said to be losing enthusiasm for reform.

Amid such dire predictions, it is easy to lose heart. That is why it’s essential to keep the conversation alive, to reach out to other activists and advocates, and to demand progress. Now is the time to make sure our voices are heard, to make sure our government knows that we need comprehensive health care reform that supports women, women of color and immigrants. We must reiterate our support today.

Ms. Foundation grantees around the country are committed to keeping this dialogue moving forward. Last week Raising Women’s Voices, the National Women’s Law Center and Women of Color United for Health Reform (all Ms. Foundation grantees) participated in the Health Action 2010 conference in Washington, DC, which brought together 700 advocates from across the country, featured speakers such as Sen. Al Franken and Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, and demonstrated that there’s still a strong base working to ensure this issue won’t disappear into legislative limbo.

But, as we continue to fight for effective reform, we must remember that comprehensive health care includes policies that support our most vulnerable populations; we must remember that reproductive health and justice are integral to health care justice. As Loretta Ross of Ms. Foundation grantee SisterSong, writes on RH Reality Check, we cannot give up on our commitment to reform that upholds the rights of all women in this country:
“Will national political leaders wake up to the reality that poor women and rural women in states like Kentucky suffer most when the federal government compromises on access to reproductive health care? Will President Obama offer policies to substantiate his brilliant rhetoric? Will he support our human rights to have children, or to not have children? To parent our children in safe and healthy environments which are the cornerstones of reproductive justice?”

02 February 2010

Sherrybaby and Reproductive Justice: NCRW Reports

Our Sherrybaby screening and discussion was a wonderful success, but don't take our word on it, read Kyla Bender-Baird's perspective on the National Council for Research on Women's Big Five blog. She noted:
Coming out of communities rather than a legal framework, reproductive justice tackles a broad spectrum of issues from immigration to LGBT identities to worker rights, highlighting the intersections and recognizing institutional barriers. By exploring the themes of poverty, single motherhood, the criminal justice system, and the welfare system, the Ms. Foundation utilized Sherrybaby as a catalyst for greater discussion of reproductive justice.
Read the posting for more on our grantees: Migrant Health Promotion, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and the Rebecca Project.