Eliminating earning disparities between women and men and ensuring access to affordable, quality health care and child care are the top priorities of the Alliance for the Status of Missouri Women in 2005, the group announced Thursday.
At a news conference in Columbia, the group released its goals for shaping state policies that support women in the workplace and their families.
Kerri McBee, the chairwoman of the alliance, said that the group will watch the state budget appropriations process. The group will lobby to see more money for Medicaid and Comprehensive Women’s Health Services programs and funding for the State Family Planning program restored.
The family planning program provided health care services at no cost to more than 30,000 uninsured women each year and had been in operation since 1992. Missouri also reduced its Medicaid health care coverage for women and families with an income at or below the poverty level last year.
In a 2002 report on the status of women in Missouri by The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Missouri received an overall grade of C for the way laws and public policies affect the lives of women and their families, McBee said. Since then, state budget cuts have worsened public policies, she said.
“As long as we have a lack of funding for the state, we will have to continually battle the debate over which programs deserve funding,” she said. “We have programs in the state to help citizens in the state, and as citizens it is our responsibility to help them.”
The Alliance is a self-proclaimed “statewide coalition of individuals and organizations concerned with a broad range of issues affecting women and their families.”
According to the group, “women’s health often mirrors their economic status,” and the number of adult women with health coverage has dropped from 90.4 percent in 2000 to 88.7 percent in 2002.
Some new state policies may be encouraging women to stay within the varied poverty levels set by state child- care or health-care subsidies while discouraging them from going to college and getting better jobs.
“The more women make, the less subsidies they will qualify for; this inadvertently promotes women not to get a good education,” McBee said. “Child care costs $5,000 to 10,000 a year. When you do the math, it just doesn’t add up.”
Darin Preis, director of the Missouri Head Start Collaboration Office in Columbia, said a mother of two making $8.56 an hour makes too much to qualify for Medicaid assistance through child-care agencies.
The group also plans to fight major changes proposed for the Head Start program, a federally sponsored preschool program. The Bush administration has sought to give states control over the funding and guidelines for the program.
Preis said Head Start is the only program of its kind with nationwide performance standards. And it should stay that way, he said.
“These changes could water down a well-working system, making it lose its comprehensive nature,” he said.
McBee said she believes current policies towards assistance programs such as Head Start and Medicaid stem from a lack of understanding of the programs among legislators, as well as party divisions among Missouri legislators.