Does Corbett have something against women?

A Gov. Corbett spokeswoman says that his budget choices aim to grow jobs, which would help low-income residents. (DAVID MAIALETTI / FILE PHOTO) DAVID MAIALETTI / DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO
A Gov. Corbett spokeswoman says that his budget choices aim to grow jobs, which would help low-income residents. (DAVID MAIALETTI / FILE PHOTO) DAVID MAIALETTI / DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO
Posted: July 31, 2012

ANDREA DOUGHERTY, a mother of three young children, cleans houses for a living and dreams of returning to school to become a hairdresser.

That's a lot for the 26-year-old Delaware County woman to juggle, even with support from her partner and family. And to hold down her $300-a-week job, Dougherty says, she needs state help to pay for reliable child care for her two sons and newborn daughter.

But for almost a year, Dougherty has been able to get assistance for only her 3-year-old to go to a full-time day-care center. Her 7-year-old son was on a waiting list for aid for almost 10 months until just last week. And her baby daughter soon also will go on a waiting list indefinitely.

"It is very stressful because you have to worry about how to pay the next bill," Dougherty told the Daily News. She said that without child-care support for her daughter, she may have to quit her job with a cleaning service and do occasional night work and side jobs. "It's hard. Everything is so expensive. You've got to get sneakers, school supplies, diapers, wipes, formula. I do get public assistance and it helps, but it doesn't really last."

Dougherty is just one example of how Gov. Corbett's budget cuts have hurt women in Pennsylvania. Since taking office, he has reduced funding for health-care and child-care services that directly affect women. Also, he has made other cuts and changes that take a far greater toll on women than on men — like reducing money for job training and homeless services, as well as introducing means-testing for food stamps.

And while working moms like Dougherty struggle, big business is getting tax breaks, critics say. The budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year includes more than $300 million in business-tax cuts and credits and a no-cap tax credit potentially worth up to $1.7 billion over 25 years for Shell Chemical to build a refinery in Beaver County.

"If you're a poor mother, before you get welfare you have to go out to look for jobs," said Sharon Ward, executive director of the nonpartisan Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. "It's a disparity in the way the commonwealth views accountability for public money."

Corbett defended the proposed tax break for Shell, which wouldn't take effect until 2017, saying it would create "tens of thousands" of jobs and "usher in a new industrial revolution" in Pennsylvania.

But what kind of Pennsylvania does Corbett want to usher in for women and families? Add up his budget choices, the lack of women in top administration jobs and his controversial remarks in support of proposed legislation requiring pregnant women who want an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound — Corbett said women who don't want to see an image should just "close your eyes" — and it starts to look as if he has something against women.

‘Doesn't have empathy'

"I think Corbett's priorities have been a step back for the state, for women, our priorities and our families. That deeply affects women as it does men," said U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who represents parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties.

Dwindling support from women is evidenced in Corbett's polling numbers. His disapproval rating with female voters in the state went from 12 percent in January 2011 to 51 percent in June 2012, according to polls from Quinnipiac University.

"I would say he doesn't have empathy or any understanding of what average women are going through," said Julia Ramsey, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization for Women. "Either he will change his tune in another two years or we need a new governor."

Corbett did not agree to an interview. Spokeswoman Kelli Roberts said in an email that Corbett was sensitive to the needs of women across the state and that his budget choices ultimately would help low-income residents.

"The Governor's economic policies are aimed at growing more jobs and economic opportunity in the commonwealth by working with businesses to ensure job growth," Roberts wrote. "This will give our citizens including those who are in need a greater opportunity at finding a job."

Asked about Corbett's cuts to social services, Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander said the administration is simply trying to reduce growing welfare costs responsibly. "We're not shrinking; we're continuing to grow," Alexander said. "It is going to create a problem if we don't have structural reform. We've done everything we can to preserve our core programs for the truly needy."

But advocacy groups said the governor's cuts are making it harder for many in the state — particularly women — to get by.

Marianne Bellasorte, of Pathways PA, which helps women achieve self-sufficiency, said that Corbett's cuts meant that several EARN (Employment Advancement Retention Network) centers in Philadelphia had to close last year.

"We had the people who were literally in the process of taking their GED test. They were trying to move forward to get self-sufficient," said Bellasorte, who said the centers primarily helped women. "I believe about a third of the clients at these EARN locations did not go to new assigned locations."

Alexander said the administration was focusing on different job-training efforts, saying "we may have been paying a little bit too much and not receiving enough output."

Reductions to child-care support — which provides subsidies to poor and low-income families for reliable child care — have meant that family contributions have gone up. And working women like Dougherty complain of long waiting lists for that service, which can be crucial to self-sufficiency. DPW officials said that almost 13,000 children were on a waiting list for child care in mid-June, and that the average wait time is more than four months.

"You're being told go back to work, get back into the workforce. But the supports don't exist," said Christie Balka, director of child care and budget policy at Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

The number of children receiving state child care subsidy has declined in recent years, from 257,735 in 2010 to an estimated 250,010 in 2012, according to the state Department of Public Welfare. Some of the decline is attributable to the loss of federal stimulus money, which expired in 2011, said DPW spokeswoman Anne Bale.

‘Fiscally prudent'

State Sen. Mike Stack, a Democrat from Northeast Philadelphia, said the cuts could push more women to welfare.

"These cuts will debilitate working families who need extra support so they can place their children in a safe child-care environment," Stack said. "Clearly, it's a program that is greatly needed already. Instead, the cuts will force families to choose whether or not they can work. That will increase the welfare rolls."

Alexander said DPW's new budget was "fiscally prudent" and "preserves core services for the neediest Pennsylvanians."

State funding for women's health programs has also felt the wrath of Corbett's budget ax, especially a Department of Health program called the HealthyWoman Program (HWP) that provides free breast- and cervical-cancer screening services to high-risk, low-income, uninsured women ages 40 to 49 who are Pennsylvania residents and don't qualify for Medicaid.

The director of the statewide screening program for HWP, Lou Ann Jeremko, said that the state puts up about 60 percent of the money to screen those women, and that nonprofits including the Susan B. Komen Foundation put up the rest. In the 2011-12 budget year, $447,000 in state funds were cut from the program. Corbett proposed $26,000 in additional cuts this year, but they were restored by the Legislature.

Jeremko said the number of women ages 40 to 49 screened annually under HWP had dropped by almost 1,000 over the past three years, noting that "the need for these services is escalating, while our funds are diminishing."

Health Department spokeswoman Holli Senior said the department would continue to screen women "who are at most risk for disease incidence and mortality."

Corbett's critics say women need to raise their voices.

"Women haven't done a good-enough job in being our own best advocates," said Dr. Sherry Blumenthal, an Abington ob-gyn and chairwoman of the Pennsylvania section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "It is time for women as a group to make as much noise as possible. I do believe we are going to have to defend ourselves."   

Contact Michael Hinkelman at 215-854-2656 or hinkelm@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @MHinkelman.

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