By: Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex)
“Urgent Update: This program was affected by New Jersey’s State budgetary cuts and will be suspended until such time that La Casa is able to obtain a new funding source or otherwise integrate the activities within a new framework.”
That is the message that one encounters when visiting the website for the Hispanic Women’s Resources Center. This message also hints at a larger thread interwoven throughout the budget recently enacted by Governor Christie.
This is a budget that shows little regard for the socioeconomic barriers that inhibit minorities and the working poor from advancing in our society.
This center in Newark, along with one in Asbury Park and one in Camden, represent the network of Hispanic Women Demonstration Resource Centers located throughout the state.
Each center shares the mission of providing outreach to the Hispanic Community to empower them with the skills necessary to adapt and succeed in our society. But the Governor’s line-item veto eliminated all state support for these resource centers.
Many in the Latino community face substantial challenges in accessing vital health and human services programs due to cultural and language barriers.
The Asbury Park Center, for example, provides job readiness services such as computer training, career counseling, referrals, and English as a Second Language, in addition to counseling and assistance to help prevent child abuse and drug and alcohol abuse.
These centers also provide free health care to uninsured families along with services to assist Latinas and their families in stabilizing their home, such as foreclosure prevention, emergency housing, domestic violence services, childcare, mentoring programs and other vital safety net services.
What makes these centers unique, and restoring funding for them critical, is that they provide all of these services in a bilingual and bicultural manner, making them far more effective.
Case in point – they have been successful in helping non-welfare, immigrant women, many of whom had degrees in their native countries, connect with the community, assimilate and obtain good jobs after taking ESL and computer literacy courses. Some even receive help in evaluating their foreign transcripts so that they can matriculate into higher education institutions in New Jersey.
Given the critical services these centers provide, I sponsored a measure to restore their funding when the Senate recently held a voting session to attempt to override many of the Governor’s draconian cuts. Without help from our Republican colleagues across the aisle, sadly, we were not able to override the Governor’s line-item vetoes.
What makes this all the more disconcerting is that minority women, Latinas in particular, along with African American women, share a disproportionate burden of many devastating illnesses such as breast and cervical cancer.
The primary reason being that many of these women lack access to basic preventative care, meaning they are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage diseases that might have been treated more effectively or cured had they been diagnosed earlier.
For example, Latinas have the highest rates of cervical cancer and are more likely to die from the illness because of a lack of screening. And, although white women have the highest incidence rate for breast cancer, black women are more likely to die from the disease because of advanced-stage diagnoses.
With yet another strike of the Governor’s veto pen, many of these women are being condemned to battle chronic and life-threatening illnesses because they will no longer be eligible for Medicaid health insurance.
In a baffling move, the Governor has reduced adult eligibility for Medicaid so harshly that a family of three will now have to be earning less than $4,633 a year to qualify for Medicaid coverage. Essentially, a family will now have to be utterly destitute in order for the parents to qualify for health insurance. This defies comprehension.
Seeing how many families will now be reeling from this cut, I sponsored another measure to try and restore Medicaid eligibility to previous levels. But again, without any support from legislative Republicans, we were unsuccessful in overriding the Governor’s veto.
These budget decisions are indicative of a larger insensitivity, or perhaps even a complete disregard, for the plight of low-income women struggling to raise children and better themselves.
Some have argued that these cuts are the right choices based on economic necessity. These same people hide behind fiscal excuses and misstatements while abdicating all moral responsibility to protect the most vulnerable women and children in our society.
How can we, in a civilized society, live with decisions that have such tragic consequences that disproportionately fall on the less fortunate?
Senator Buono is the Majority Leader in the state Senate