How Washington’s Budget Priorities Injure Immigrant Women

| Nov 17, 2011

Many women in the United States take a huge step forward under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With the ACA’s provisions for more affordable private healthcare, expanded access to public health coverage, and mandated insurance coverage for the wide range of preventive care services, the future looks bright. But the Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction more commonly known as the supercommittee is changing that. Many women, including many Latinas, stand to be hurt as the supercommittee tries to reach a deal to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Safety net programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, have received great deal of attention as targets for cost-savings: proposals have suggested $50 billion to $185 billion in reductions on Medicaid spending, while most proposals seek to chop $400-500 billion from Medicare.

Cuts to both of these programs would be devastating for millions of Americans, including Latinas. About one-quarter of Latinos are Medicaid recipients, including 14% of Latinas aged 19-64. Considering that almost three times as many Latinas are uninsured as receive Medicaid, some Latinas may be newly-eligible for Medicaid under the ACA expansions. Medicare cuts would also be devastating for the health of elderly Latinas: 58% of Latina Medicare beneficiaries live on annual incomes of less than $10,000 (compared with less than a quarter of white women at that income level).

As we wait to see if the supercommittee recommends massive cuts to these basic safety net programs, one thing is both clear and painfully ironic: some the same individuals who think the U.S. apparently cannot afford our already bare-bones safety net programs think that we can afford to spend billions of dollars every year on immigration enforcement and detention, where our mothers, sisters, and friends lose their health, their dignity, their families, and even their lives.

Apparently, it is not a priority for the U.S. to spend money on maintain basic healthcare for our children, parents, and grandparents. Instead, we prioritize paying the price of incarcerating over 30,000 immigration detainees per day, which adds up to hundreds of thousands of immigration detainees per year (to say nothing of similarly high numbers of penal inmates who languish in jails and prisons for minor drug crimes or because they couldn’t afford a decent lawyer). For fiscal year (FY) 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enjoyed a budget of over $5.5 billion, approximately half of which was allocated to detention and removal. The House of Representatives proposed to increase the amount of money for immigration detention and removal next year; for FY2012, the House approved monies that amount to $5.5 million per day to be spent on immigration detention. While relatively small, compared to the $50+ billion proposed to be slashed from Medicaid, it is clear that there is fat to be cut from the country’s annual expenditures, rather than getting rid of the meat and potatoes of many struggling Americans.

The supercommittee may see our social programs as bloated or ripe for the picking, but people need them now more than ever. Even so, the U.S. diverts valuable resources to the tune of billions of dollars per year into the pockets of large corporations who carry out the government’s ill-advised policies that harm our communities. Latinas of all ages and immigration statuses have a great deal riding on the supercommittee’s upcoming recommendations as Washington has consistently shown that Latinas’ rights are not on the list of priorities. National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is committed to showing how cutting social spending will hurt Latinas’ health; how prioritizing spending on the incarceration of immigrants is an insult to their dignity; and how sacrificing the health of many low-income residents of this country in service of putting money in the pockets of large corporations should be an affront to everyone’s sense of justice.

Cross-posted from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health blog.