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GUEST EDITORIAL

A budget for women

As a woman, I was proud to help so many women get registered to vote for the 2008 elections. Women's Voices...Women Vote, the organization which I founded, registered more than 900,000 women in the months leading up to the November elections.

These women made the effort to get registered because they believed that change was possible. Then these same women came out in November and voted for change and for hope.

President Obama's fiscal year 2010 budget is an important next step in bringing about that change.

Why is President Obama's budget important to women? Women, and particularly unmarried women, have been disproportionately impacted by the current recession. Unmarried women face a much higher unemployment rate than Americans as a whole, are more likely to be uninsured, and are paid substantially less than men. Women need the additional investments in health care, education and energy reform that are made possible by the proposed budget. Investing for long-term economic growth will mean tangible improvements in the lives of women across our country.

Let's look at health care coverage. Our research has shown that health care reform is the top public policy issue that unmarried women would like to advocate for, and the dismal statistics help explain why.

According to a December 2008 report from the federal Centers for Disease Control, 21 percent of unmarried women aged 25 to 64 lack any health insurance. And, as the economy continues to shed jobs, more and more women are losing their employer-sponsored health coverage and joining the ranks of the uninsured. In fact, a recent report from the Center for American Progress calculates that 14,000 Americans are losing their health coverage every day due to job loss. The proposed budget includes $632 billion as a down payment for a system of quality, affordable health coverage for all Americans. Now is the time to fix our health care crisis -- this budget begins that process.

Now let's take a look at jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unmarried women experienced an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent in March 2009, compared to an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent for all Americans. It is vital that the federal budget funds specific programs that address this crisis, and the budget proposal does just that. This budget invests additional funds in high quality, affordable early childhood programs like Head Start, to enable low-income mothers to have safe, affordable care for their children while they are at work. The budget increases funding for Pell Grants that make college more affordable, which opens doors to higher skilled jobs. Finally, the budget provides additional funds to train workers for the green jobs of the future, which means greater employment opportunities.

But how will we pay for it? This budget raises revenue for these critical investments by restoring fairness to the tax code after years of giveaways to the very wealthy and the largest corporations. Taxpayers with incomes over $250,000 (couple) or $200,000 (individual) would lose some of the tax breaks enacted in 2001 and 2003. Corporations would lose tax breaks that encourage them to move jobs and profits overseas, and the big oil companies would lose special tax breaks as well.

Unmarried women came out to vote in record numbers last year because of hope for a better tomorrow. That was a first step, but it is not enough. Now it's time to take the next step. It's time we agree to a budget that addresses the health care crisis, creates jobs, and invests in education, from early childhood through college.

- Page Gardner is president and CEO of Women's Voices...Women Vote, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to increasing the involvement of women in the public policy process.

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