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Let's Just Say You Had $700 Billion to Spend

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

With news readers feasting on $700 billion headlines this week, a variety of advocates were asked what portions of that they'd need to solve some social problems. Among the answers: eradicating world poverty for two years.

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With news readers feasting on $700 billion headlines this week, a variety of advocates were asked what portions of that they'd need to solve some social problems. Among the answers: eradicating world poverty for two years.
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Irasema Garza

WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--Anti-poverty and women's rights lobbyists are looking at the government's $700 billion bank bailout and seeing a way to talk about national spending priorities.

"It's obviously incredibly unfair," said Irasema Garza, president of New York-based Legal Momentum, a legal advocacy group for women. "We're willing to get ourselves in that type of debt to take incredible risk to bail out those industries but as a country we're not willing to take a fraction of that particular risk to make sure we have sound economic policies to give the citizens of our country the basic things they need to live: a place to live, health care, food, education for their kids and the creation of good jobs."

In his personal blog Duncan Green, head of research for Oxfam Great Britain and author of the 2008 book "From Poverty to Power," notes that $700 billion could eradicate world poverty for more than two years.

That would disproportionately benefit women, who make up 70 percent of the world's poor, according to Washington-based Women Thrive Worldwide, a group that lobbies for aid for women in developing countries.

"It's important that we help people here who are in need and have been hurt by this financial crisis," said Nora O'Connell, vice president of policy and government affairs at Women Thrive Worldwide. "But we also have to realize that the impacts of the crisis don't stop at U.S. borders."

$150 Billion for Global Poverty

Worldwide, Green estimates that about $150 billion each year could help governments meet the United Nations millennium development goals, a global set of anti-poverty guidelines--including gender parity in education and improved maternal health care--laid out by 189 nations in 2000.

The Institute for Women's Policy Research, a think tank in Washington, D.C., that focuses on women and the economy, is hosting an Oct. 30 panel discussion on the impact of the financial crisis on women featuring the institute's president, Heidi Hartmann; Erica Hunt, president of the 21st Century Foundation, which focuses on economic development in the African American community; and Legal Momentum's Garza.

"We all now recognize that the economic crisis is No. 1; severe," Garza said. "But before this crisis hit Wall Street, people on Main Street were already hurting. Within that, working women were taking a big hit and have been over the last five years."

Carrie Lukas, a budget analyst with the Independent Women's Forum, a free-market think tank in Washington, D.C., said she would use the money to simplify the tax code.

"Women need a growing economy which provides jobs, especially a wide range of jobs that offer women a variety of work arrangements, and a less burdensome tax structure would certainly help toward that end."

Other advocates said they would spend the money to enhance government.

The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, a lobby in Washington, D.C., estimates that $759 million--about 1 percent of the rescue plan total--would enable the country's low-cost health care clinics to provide all eligible individuals with the full range of family planning services: access to contraceptives, counseling, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

The government currently spends $300 million on the program.

Targeting Social Programs

On the domestic front, about $6 billion would cover the annual human, social, criminal and medical cost of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, according to the Washington-based National Network to End Domestic Violence. Through two major funding streams, the government allocated $573 million for programs aimed at providing service to survivors of abuse and prosecuting offenders in fiscal 2008.

Another $13 billion a year would fully fund and expand government child care programs for low-income families, according to the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C. And about $15 billion a year would double the number of children receiving federal child care assistance, according to the center.

On a larger scale, $90 billion would pay for a legislative package cutting domestic poverty in half over a decade, according to the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington, D.C. That package would expand tax credits for parents; increase college grants; provide housing assistance, food stamps and unemployment compensation; and increase the minimum wage.

Expansions in these programs would help more women than men. Women are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to lose jobs than men and more likely to have low-wage employment without benefits.

Stimulating Global Economy

The bill is a good use of taxpayer money if it succeeds in thawing the credit markets and infusing cash into the global economy, said Lukas. "If there is truly a potential looming depression due to credit problems, and the investment of $700 billion can head that off, then this will be a positive investment for women."

With less wealth than men, women around the world are more vulnerable to economic downturns. If they do have jobs, women are more likely to lose them before men if companies are forced to lay off employees.

As the majority of the world's poor, women are also more vulnerable if foreign aid from wealthy countries shrinks as a result of souring economies.

"This globalized financial crisis will hit the poorest countries the hardest," said Linda Basch, president of the National Council for Research on Women, a think tank in New York. "There is justifiable concern that international development assistance will be reduced and this will hurt the poorest of the poor, who tend to be women."

A majority of female lawmakers voted for the $700 billion bailout. In the Senate, 12 of the 16 female members backed the bill; 52 of the 71 women in the House voted for passage.

"I voted, with great reluctance, for the economic rescue package," said Lois Capps, a California Democrat who chairs the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues, a bipartisan group of female House members, "because I believe decisive action is necessary to head off what could be a huge economic calamity, one that would hurt women disproportionately."

Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women's eNews.