Maryland Makes the Health of Women and Families a Priority

At Washington Area Women’s Foundation, we believe access to quality, affordable health care is essential for women to thrive. Access to contraception is a key component of overall health care. Family planning services, including both privately and publicly funded services, are critical to ensuring women and families have the ability to plan if and when to have children.

Federal Title X funding helps ensure that women are able to access reproductive health care services, regardless of race, income level, gender identity, location, or insurance status.

The Trump-Pence administration recently issued a new rule imposing harmful standards of care on patients by limiting what doctors in Title X clinics can say to their patients about contraception. Open conversations are essential to improving health outcomes. This “gag rule” not only prohibits doctors from giving women full information about their reproductive health care options, but it also redirects  funding from clinics with a range of options available onsite, toward ideologically motivated, single-method providers—or crisis pregnancy centers—thus diminishing access to affordable health care services for millions of women.

The rule will have devastating effects on populations that are already facing significant barriers to accessing health care services. Decades of systemic inequities and racism in the operation of programs and policies have imposed barriers on certain populations— young women, women of color, LGBTQ people, low-income women, and women in rural areas— limiting their access to health care. In our region, many women who rely on Title X funding to access contraception and other essential health care services are women of color who face overlapping barriers to accessing health care, education, and childcare. Without access to Title X funded clinics, they would be unable to afford these health services on their own.

There are several legal challenges to the rule pending, and it will most likely end up before the Supreme Court. Public health organizations and elected officials, including mayors, governors, and state legislators have come out in opposition to the rule and are actively urging the administration to reconsider its position.

In the meantime, Maryland has made the health of women and families a priority by being the first state in the nation to formally opt-out of Title X federal funding.  The state legislature approved preemptive legislation that guarantees funding, at the same level as the prior fiscal year, for all family planning centers in the state if the rule moves forward. With this provision, Maryland is leading the way for the nation to defend the integrity of the Title X program and ensure basic reproductive health provisions for the women who need it most.

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Claudia Williams manages a portfolio of research and evaluation to advance the work of The Women’s Foundation 

Memorial Day: One Veteran’s Perspective

Editor’s note: In honor of Memorial Day and the brave women and men who have sacrificed their lives for our country, we bring you today’s blog piece from a Women’s Foundation donor and supporter, Former Sergeant Stacy Kupcheni.

Memorial Day is a day to remember and honor military men and women who died in the service of their country, primarily in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. Although female service members are included in the definition, they are often forgotten. Since the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, approximately 280,000 women have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and as of early 2013 more than 150 women have been killed in these wars, according to the military. This is more than the number of U.S. military women killed in action in Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm combined.

Memorial Day photoRecognition of these fallen women on Memorial Day is somewhat of an afterthought, and is a bit ironic, considering women were almost entirely responsible for the recognition of Memorial Day. Just weeks after the Civil War ended, Ellen Call Long organized a women’s memorial society to reconcile embittered enemies. Usually named some variant of “women’s relief society,” groups sprang up in both the North and South that not only memorialized the dead, but also cared for the war’s disabled and its widows and orphans. The efforts of these women led the way in turning the horrors of war into something that encouraged serenity and reflection.  Unfortunately, many people don’t know the significance that women have played in the origins of this holiday, but even more upsetting, is that all too often, we forget to spend the time reflecting on the meaning of the day itself.

Before joining the Army, I was like many other Americans who just thought of Memorial Day as another day off of school/work, another day for sales events, and the start of summer BBQs. People saying “Happy Memorial Day” didn’t bother me then, and honestly, the day had no true meaning to me. On some level, I knew it was a day for remembering and honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but I did not fully comprehend the scope of it.

After nearly 10 years of service in the military, and another 10 years of civilian service in the Department of Defense, 4 deployments to Iraq, and 1 deployment to Afghanistan, Memorial Day has taken on a new meaning.

To me, it is not only to remember and honor those who died in the service of their country, but also to honor those who returned home, like me, feeling like a shell of the person they once were.

No one who goes to war ever fully comes home – at least not in the emotional and psychological sense.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very real battle wound that affects everyone differently. Some make it back mostly the person they were before, but many return only physically, forever unrecognizable psychologically.  These invisible wounds of war can be even more devastating than the battle scars that can be seen, but even harder to find support around.  This is a sad state of reality, and while strides have been made to provide mental health services to returning veterans, more must be done.

For many people, the military is a place that means opportunity for higher education and career advancement that they would not otherwise have access to – for me, it made the difference between going to college or not.  Yet, in many cases, the potential for economic security as a result from these opportunities is quickly negated by the impact of the psychological trauma caused by PTSD.  At best, PTSD can make it difficult to perform well at work.  But for many, the implications are farther reaching, resulting in an inability to keep a job, substance abuse, and other destructive behavior as coping mechanism.  For some, the trauma is just impossible to bear.

According to a 2012 Veterans Affairs study, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Among active duty troops, 2012 was the worst year for military suicides – making troop suicide more lethal than combat, although this data has only been tracked since 2008.   As women, we are often expected to return to the roles that we led as spouses/partners, mothers, and caregivers while bearing these additional burdens of war.

This isn’t the kind of thing that most people want to talk about.  It’s heavy and it is hard.  But those are exactly the reasons why it is so important to talk about.  As a veteran, my desire is that every veteran returning from combat has access to the supportive services they need to try to return to their life at home as whole as they can be.

As a woman, I hope that these services reflect the full reality of our lives as spouses, mothers, sisters, etc., and that they also recognize the often tenuous line that returning veterans walk between economic security and insecurity when battling PTSD, especially women who are already at an economic disadvantage to our male counterparts in our society.

I hope that those who lose their battle with PSTD or “Shell Shock” after returning home are also recognized and honored with appreciation and reverence on Memorial Day because these too, were wounds sustained in battle.

But for today, this Memorial Day, I hope you will honor those among you who risk it all to serve their country by taking part in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3pm (local time).  Take the time to pause for one minute in an act of national unity, amongst the cook-outs and sales, to honor America’s fallen service members, their families, and the women long ago who made it a priority to recognize them.

Women’s History Month Q&A – March 12, 2014

Q: Who was the first woman awarded a medical degree by an American college?

A: Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive an M.D. degree from an American medical school, graduating from New York’s Geneva Medical College in 1849. The school’s faculty, assuming that the all-male student body would never agree to a woman joining their ranks, allowed them to vote on her admission. Thinking it was so ludicrous it must be a joke, the male students voted “yes,” and she gained admittance, despite the reluctance of most students and faculty.

Want to play along? Join us on Facebook for the daily Women’s History Month Q&A for your chance to win a Women’s Foundation t-shirt. Questions go on our Facebook page each weekday at 9 am.

New Grantmaking for Girls: A Two Generation Strategy

I’m excited to announce a new initiative that will expand The Women’s Foundation’s grants and impact in our community. As we move toward taking on a lifespan approach to our work, we are adding funding for programs working with middle school aged girls to our current grantmaking portfolio. We’ve just released our first Request for Proposals (RFP) for this work.

As you’ll see from the RFP, our goal is to fund innovative programs that work with both young women and their mothers or female caregivers, to establish economic security across generations — this is going to be a ground-breaking initiative!

Adolescence is an important time to build foundational skills, encourage positive choices and reinforce girls’ health and well-being. In our region, however, there are numerous barriers to success for adolescent girls:

  • Fifty-one percent of children in the District and 29% of children in Prince George’s County live below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • The District’s drop out rate is nearly 40%, and 16% of Prince George’s students do not graduate high school in four years.
  • And DC and Prince George’s County have the highest number of births to teen mothers in the region (11.7% and 9.3%, respectively).

These statistics are also why our work will initially focus on Washington, DC and Prince George’s County — our research has shown that these are the areas of greatest need among women and girls in our region.

We’re using this new strategy as another stepping stone to achieving and maintaining economic security for women throughout their entire lives. We begin accepting proposals immediately, so please share the RFP with your network today. And I’ll be reporting back in the future about the outcomes of our work and the lessons we’re learning.

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Five Policies That Impacted Women & Their Families in 2012

IMG_1244At The Women’s Foundation, we pay close attention to policies that affect women and their families throughout the year. Here are five that we’ve kept tabs on in 2012.

5. The Paycheck Fairness Act. In June, the Senate failed to move forward with legislation that would have helped ensure equal pay for both genders. The Paycheck Fairness Act would have required employers to demonstrate that gender does not play a role in salary differences between men and women performing the same work. The Senate fell eight votes short of advancing the bill, but – due to some political maneuvering – didn’t totally kill it. According to the Census Bureau, women’s median annual earnings are about 78 percent that of men’s. The gap is even greater for women of color.

4. 2012 Farm Bill. Food insecurity disproportionately impacts low-income women and children, who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. SNAP is part of the Farm Bill, which was up for renewal this year (it has to be renewed every five years). The bill expired in September and Congress was unable to pass a new version before the House adjourned last week. The future of the bill could be impacted before the end of the year by fiscal cliff negotiations or retroactive extensions. The biggest points of disagreement in the bill are farm subsidies and SNAP benefits. There are currently 47 million people enrolled in the food stamps program.

3. The 2012 Election. While the election itself is not a policy, the record number of women elected to Congress in 2012 will likely have a significant impact on future policy. In spite of the notable increase, women still only make up 17 percent of Congress – we have a long way to go. Higher political representation for women at the national, state and local levels increases the likelihood that laws and policies will reflect the needs and interests of women and children.

2. Affordable Care Act. In June, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, which will be an important tool in improving the health and economic security of low-income women and their children. Under the ACA, women will pay lower healthcare costs and can receive preventative care without co-pays. Medicaid coverage will also be expanded to cover more families who live above the poverty line but who are still economically insecure.

1. Resolving the “Fiscal Cliff.” This is still a work-in-progress… we hope. If there’s no compromise, experts say that the hundreds-of-billions-of-dollars in tax increases and spending cuts that will take place on January 1st will likely push the country into a recession. The impact on low-income women and children would be disproportionate and particularly devastating. The services and policies that could be affected include: the Earned Income Tax Credit, the child tax credit, Head Start and other child care programs, nutrition assistance and housing assistance. As negotiations continue, the President and Congress need to work together to keep the country from going over the cliff – and not at the expense of our most economically vulnerable families.

Affordable Care Act a Victory for Economically Vulnerable Women

Today’s historic Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act is a victory for women and particularly significant for economically vulnerable women and their children. In the coming years it will be an important tool in improving their health and economic security.

Under the Affordable Care Act:

  • Women will pay lower health care costs. According to healthcare.gov, “before the law, women could be charged more for individual insurance policies simply because of their gender. A 22-year-old woman could be charged 150% the premium that a 22-year-old man paid.”
  • Insurance companies can’t deny coverage to women who have pre-existing conditions like cancer or to women who have been pregnant.
  • Women will have the freedom to choose their primary care provider, OB-GYB or pediatrician in their health plan’s network without a referral.
  • Women will be able to receive preventative care without co-pays. Services like mammograms, new baby care and well-child visits won’t have to be paid out of pocket.
  • Health care plans will include maternity care.
  • Medicaid coverage will be expanded to cover families up to 133 percent of poverty and health insurance subsidies will be provided to help pay premiums and out-of-pocket costs for families with incomes up to 400 percent of poverty.

While health insurance coverage is important for us all, it is especially critical to low-income women and their families. Women with incomes below the poverty line are much less likely to be insured than others and women of color are also at a disadvantage when it comes to coverage. Latinas have the lowest levels of coverage in our region – in Prince George’s County, for example, fewer than seven in ten Latinas have health insurance.

The Supreme Court’s ruling made me so optimistic. Days like this make all of our aspirations seem possible and put us one step closer to our vision: a country where everyone – regardless of their gender, race or income – has access to the resources and opportunities that will enable them to thrive.

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Inclusion Can Help DC in the HIV/AIDS Fight

Last week The Washington Post carried a devastating headline: “HIV infection rate skyrockets among some D.C. women.” The women the headline referred to were heterosexual, low-income African American women. The HIV infection rate for them nearly doubled in two years, going from 6.3 percent to 12.1 percent, according to a new study released by the DC Department of Health.

The Washington Blade covered the same story but had a completely different angle. Their headline read “Report: D.C. HIV rates continue to drop.” The difference in coverage highlights the fact that while progress is being made in the fight against HIV in DC, black women living in poverty are being left behind.

When the DOH study was made public, Mayor Vincent Gray announced that headway was being made because “we are getting people diagnosed with HIV infection earlier and directly into care with our treatment-on-demand policy.” But these tactics clearly aren’t working for everybody. When so much of the population can’t be part of your success story, it’s time to question just how successful you’re being. It’s time to change the way we’re addressing and talking about the problem.

A report released by Washington Area Women’s Foundation in 2010 explored how advocacy can improve services for women with HIV/AIDS. “The AIDS epidemic has a unique impact on women, exacerbated by their role in society and their biological vulnerability to HIV infection,” the report said. “Women and girls living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS… continue to experience barriers to care including: fragmentation in the HIV medical care delivery system, cultural barriers, organizational procedures insensitive to the needs of women and girls, and lack of information about services. Race, poverty, language, sexual orientation, and class intensify these barriers.”

By taking the unique needs of low-income African American women into account when tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic in DC, city officials and policy makers can have real, lasting impact for all residents no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation or income. The Women’s Foundation encourages DOH and the mayor to include low-income black women in all future conversations about the most effective ways to reverse the rising HIV infection rate in DC and beyond.

On June 27th, National HIV Testing Day, The Women’s Collective (a Grantee Partner of Washington Area Women’s Foundation) held a community conversation with a representative from the DC HIV/AIDS Hepatitis, STD & TB Administration to discuss the report in further detail with nonprofits and women in the community. The event was a chance to ask questions, discuss possible solutions and meet allies. Parked right outside was a van that serves as The Women’s Collective’s mobile testing unit, where women were signing up to get HIV tests. Events and opportunities like these can and should be part of DC’s success story.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

In today’s rundown: The new poverty measurement finds Latinos to be the poorest group in the U.S.  It’s going to cost an additional $5 to feed your family at Thanksgiving this year.  And discounted broadband services for low income families starting next summer.

— The new supplemental poverty measure released by the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this week finds that Latinos are the poorest group of Americans, according to DCentric. The new measure puts the nationwide Latino poverty rate at 28 percent.  The official measurement finds that African Americans have the highest poverty rate in the country.

— The cost of Thanksgiving dinner is on the rise, reports the Virginia Farm Bureau.  This year, feeding a group of 10 adults turkey, side dishes and dessert will cost $48.03.  That’s nearly $5 more than last year, reports WAMU.

— A free health education text messaging service aimed at medically under-served women is reaching a number of goals, according to the White House Council on Women and Girls’ blog. Text4Baby sends three text messages per week to subscribers with information on doctor’s visits, immunization and Medicaid.

— Cable companies around the country will begin offering discounted services to families with an annual income of $29,055 or less, reports DCentric. Cutting costs will make having the internet more affordable to low income residents.

Federal Budget Cuts & the Impact on Medicare, Medicaid & Women

U.S. CapitolMany commentators have written about the current round of negotiations about the federal budget and how budget cuts will affect the poor. Women’s organizations and women columnists (see here and here, for example) have noted the disproportionate focus on cutting programs affecting women’s reproductive health and rights.

Few have paid attention, however, to the potential overall effects of changes in Medicare and Medicaid on women – both young and old.

It is time to take a gender lens to these programs. Reducing the reach and coverage of Medicare and Medicaid – through any means – will affect millions of women, particularly low-income women.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation:

  • Medicaid provided 20 million low-income women with basic health and long-term care coverage in 2007.
  • Women make up the majority of adult Medicaid recipients (69 percent of the total – even higher among the oldest recipients).
  • If this percentage holds true in our area, any changes to Medicaid will affect nearly 1 million women in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

The same holds true for Medicare. Again, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation:

  • The majority (56 percent) of Medicare beneficiaries are women.
  • Any changes to Medicare will affect more than 1 million women in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
  • As we learned from our 2010 Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area, this number is likely to grow dramatically in the next decade. Between 2000 and 2008, the population of women over 65 grew by 18 percent in the region, compared to an overall 5 percent increase in the total population of women.

Isn’t it time we started talking about this?

Gwen Rubinstein is Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s Program Officer.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

U.S. CapitolIn today’s rundown: How a government shutdown might impact vulnerable residents. | A new study finds that health-related grantmakers do not make the needs of under-served communities a top priority. | A new report finds that low-wage workers are discriminated against based on their caregiving responsibilities.

DCentric takes a look at how a federal government shutdown could impact DC’s most vulnerable residents.

— “Less than one-third of a representative sample of grantmakers that support health-related issues in the United States have made the needs of underserved communities a top priority” according to a new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.  Click here for details.

— A new report from the Center for WorkLife Law shows that low-wage workers are discriminated against at work based on their caregiving responsibilities at home.  Click here to read “Poor, Pregnant and Fired.”