Assembly members fight for women’s issues in final budget

Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, at podium, joins other state assemblywomen in Albany on Monday to stress the importance of maintaining support for programs that promote women’s health, strong families and child development. Gazette photo by Katherine Carroll.

Women leaders from the state Assembly met Monday to announce their priorities and recommendations for the final budget, with a goal protecting women’s rights and assisting families across New York.

Shelley Mayer, D-Yonkers, chair of the Assembly Task Force on Women’s Issues, was joined by other assemblywomen to advocate for funding childcare and afterschool programs, expanding universal Pre-K, and restoring funding to other programs they say are underfunded, or left out of, the Executive Budget.

They are also concerned about the policy priorities of the new president and the overall political climate.

“In light of the danger posed by our new federal administration, its appointees and potential Supreme Court nominees,” Mayer said, “We believe we must work even harder to ensure that women’s rights and economic opportunities are protected and that our state remains a leader on women’s issues.”

The task force applauded Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, for his leadership and for including their priorities in the Assembly one-house budget.

The Assembly budget provides for $20 million in a contingency fund for Planned Parenthood, in the event of federal funding cuts to the program.

Federal cuts to Planned Parenthood would put many women in New York at risk, according to Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-Hudson.

“This is not just about reproductive rights, it’s about cancer screening, sexually transmitted diseases,” Barrett said. “In many cases that is the first and only care that many communities have. There’s something like 17 counties in New York state where planned parenthoods are the only provider doing that basic kind of care.”

Another issue of importance for the Women’s Task Force is providing day care for toddlers and afterschool programs for older students.

Included in the Assembly budget is a $5 million allocation for the Advantage Afterschool program, $13 million for new child care slots, a $50 million increase in funding for universal Pre-K outside of New York City, and restoration of $334,000 for SUNY and CUNY child care programs they say were cut from the Executive Budget.

“Too often issues related to child care and reproductive health become barriers to self sufficiency for women,” said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern.

“Currently, 83 percent of low-income families in New York state who qualify for child care assistance do not receive it,” Jaffee said. “Without access to child care, all too often, women are not able to work, pursue their education and move themselves out of poverty.”

Afterschool programs are facing federal budget cuts because, according to White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, there is no “demonstrable evidence that they… help kids.”

This comment left Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo “speechless.”

“It’s not just about having programs to help educate kids after school,” said Lupardo, D-Endwell. “It keeps them in a safe place where their parents can have peace of mind.”

The Assembly Women’s Task Force also wants the final budget to restore its title XX funding to its original purpose of assisting both child social services and elderly community services. Gov. Cuomo’s Executive Budget mandates that this federal funding be used strictly for child care, with an additional $400 million for seniors to make up for the cut.

Finally, the women legislators want the budget to restore $147,000 for rape crisis centers, which provide 24 hour telephone hotlines and counseling to anyone affected by sexual assault and domestic violence.

According to the National Domestic Violence hotline, more women than men are affected by domestic violence. Nearly one in four women have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

“From women’s reproductive health issues, to education, albeit child care or after school programs, to domestic violence services, women’s issues are family issues,” said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo. “Regardless of marital status, the primary caretaking responsibilities in families fall to women.”

For Peoples-Stokes, issues of funding child care and reproductive health are an ongoing fight.

“Now you wonder why people think that we don’t need afterschool programs and why people don’t want to fund daycare, and why they don’t want to fund things that support women in the workforce? It’s a really easy answer. Because they don’t want you in the workforce,” she said. “But, just because that’s what they want, it’s not what we’re going to accept.”