Paul Ryan’s Budget Deals a Body Blow to Women’s Bottom Line
You’d have to live under a rock to miss the news on Saturday morning that Mitt Romney has picked Congressman Paul Ryan to be his running mate. The announcement immediately kicked up a flurry of speculation: what does Ryan bring to the ticket that Romney wants? One thing he does not bring: women’s votes. Mitt Romney has been dogged by a problem with female voters, lagging in their support far behind President Obama, particularly among single women. But where Romney has been vague and flip-floppish on many issues, Ryan has long been very clear about his staunch support for policies that will hurt women economically.
Most people know Paul Ryan for his budget plans. There’s plenty of pain to be found in his budget for the lower and middle class, but women in particular make out poorly (literally) if his budget gets a presidential signature. Add in other policies he’s proposed or supported, and the picture becomes even bleaker. Here’s why:
1. Medicaid is crucial to women’s health. It provides coverage to nearly 19 million low-income women, meaning that they make up 70 percent of the program’s beneficiaries. Any slashing of Medicaid’s rolls will therefore fall heavily on their shoulders.
And Paul Ryan’s policies would do just that. Ryan’s budget slashes Medicaid by more than twenty percent over the next ten years and turns it into a block grant to states, letting them spend the money as they wish – as opposed to the current form in which states have to follow certain rules in how the money is spent. The Urban Institute estimated that the block grant plan alone would lead states to drop between 14 and 27 million people from Medicaid by 2021.
On top of that, Ryan’s budget repeals the Affordable Care Act, and with it the Medicaid expansion that some states are already threatening to refuse. Without that expansion, 17 million people will be left without Medicaid coverage. Women will again be hurt by this outcome: 13.5 million were expected to get health insurance coverage under the expansion by 2016. A Ryan budget would ensure they stay unprotected.
2. Social Security is another crucial safety net program that women disproportionately rely on. It is virtually the only source of income for about a third of female beneficiaries over 65. (Compare that to less than a quarter of men.) Without it, half of those women would live in poverty.
Ryan’s budgets haven’t called for specific cuts to the program, although his first version favorably cited the cuts proposed by the Simpson-Bowles report. But before he was known for chart-filled budgets, he put his name to a plan to partially privatize Social Security by having workers divert about half of their Social Security payroll-tax contribution to a private retirement account. Remember how well 401(k)s fared during the recent financial crisis when stocks took a nosedive? That could happen again – and the women who rely on Social Security benefits could be left without anything to fall back on.
3. One more big social safety net program that women rely on: Medicare. The majority of Medicare beneficiaries are women, and twice as many women over age 65 live in poverty as compared to men.
Ryan’s budget plan would raise the eligibility age for Medicare to sixty-seven while repealing the ACA, leaving those between ages sixty-five and sixty-seven with neither Medicare nor access to health insurance exchanges or subsidies to help them buy coverage. That will leave low-income people with nowhere to turn except the pricey private insurance market at an age when health care is crucially important. Come 2023 his plan would also replace Medicare’s guarantee of health coverage with payments to the elderly to buy coverage from private companies or traditional Medicare. The problem is that the payments would increase so slowly that spending on the average sixty-seven-year-old by 2050 could be reduced by as much as forty percent as compared to now. That’s not going to go very far toward getting the elderly health coverage.
4. There are other huge pieces of the social safety net that women rely on that Ryan would unravel if given the chance. Beyond all the above cuts, his budget plan would spend about sixteen percent less than President Obama’s budget on programs for the poor. This includes slashing SNAP, or food stamps, by $133.5 billion, more than seventeen percent all told, over the next decade.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, women were over sixty percent of adult SNAP recipients and over sixty-five percent of elderly recipients in 2010. Plus over half of all households that rely on SNAP benefits were headed by a single adult – and over ninety percent of them were women.
5. His budget would also cut TANF, the program that replaced welfare, and Supplemental Security Income by $463 billion. Nearly nine in ten adult beneficiaries of TANF were women in 2009 – over eighty-five percent.
6. Given that his budget plan gets over 60 percent of the $5.3 trillion in nondefense budget cuts from support for low-income Americans, there are a host of other programs women rely on that would see huge cuts. Child care assistance, Head Start, job training and housing and energy assistance would likely see a $291 billion cut. Cuts to childcare and Head Start will disproportionately impact working mothers. But other programs also greatly benefit women. Take housing support. The Housing Choice Voucher program provides families with rental assistance, and over 80 percent of households receiving that support are headed by women.
7. There are plenty of other ways that Ryan’s ultra conservative views could impact women financially beyond his severe budget and policy proposals. His views on contraception are from another century. He’s against the ACA’s mandate that religious employers provide insurance coverage for birth control. He’s also opposed to federally funded family planning services. He voted to deny birth control coverage to federal employees in 1999 and has voted at least four times to defund Planned Parenthood, a key provider of contraceptives, particularly for low-income women. He also supports the “personhood” movement, which writes bills defining conception as the beginning of life that would likely outlaw some forms of birth control.
This is not just a social issue. This is an economic issue for millions of women. Research has shown a clear link between women’s ability to control their fertility thanks to contraception and increased female employment. In 1950, 18 million women were in the workforce. Since then, the pill has become widely available and widely used, and that number has tripled to 66 million. Ryan threatens to set us back by at least half a century and make it that much harder for women to get into the workforce.
8. On top of this, he’s no supporter of equal pay for equal work, voting against the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which gives women more time to file lawsuits when they believe they’ve been discriminated against by an employer. The gender wage gap means that the typical woman loses $431,000 over a forty-year career as compared to her male peers.
On Feministing, Vanessa Valenti points out that there are plenty of other ways that Paul Ryan's policies are a nightmare for the country’s women – from opposing Roe v. Wade to voting against marriage equality to being terrible on immigration issues. One thing is for sure: if Romney’s new running mate is voted in as second in command and his ideas guide the next administration, women can expect a lot of economic pain.
© 2012 The Nation