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Arizona's sad record of women in poverty

A LEGACY OF SPENDING CUTS

Here's a sad reality of life in today's Arizona: More than half a million women live in poverty.

The Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona and the Arizona Foundation for Women teamed up with the Grand Canyon Institute to crunch some numbers and take a look at some of the root causes of that poverty. The resulting report, "Supporting Arizona Women's Economic Self-Sufficiency," shows some grim statistics: Nearly four out of five single-parent families in Arizona are headed up by women, which creates all kinds of stress on a household budget. Three out of five people who don't have jobs are women, so they're more likely to be out of work than men.

And even when women get jobs, they are often not gigs that pay enough to escape poverty. Of the five most common occupations for Arizona women, two of them—restaurant/food prep and sales jobs—pay on average less than $21,512, which is considered the amount of money a person needs to just support themselves. Two of the other occupational sectors, office/administrative support and education/training, pay less than the $51,115 that a household needs if it is home to a pre-schooler and school-aged child. Only management jobs provide, on average, enough for a woman with two young kids in the house to move on from living paycheck to paycheck.

But the report details an even bigger problem: Over the last five years, the Arizona Legislature has cut a number of programs that actually help women escape from poverty. Among them:

• The state completely eliminated state funding for child-care subsidies and early childhood education programs. Let's face it: A mom can't hold down a job if she doesn't have reliable childcare, which is pretty darn expensive if you want a safe environment for your kid. And if your entire paycheck is being spent on childcare, it doesn't make much sense to go out and get a job. Fortunately, the First Things First, an agency created by voters and funded by tobacco taxes, stepped up to provide some of that funding and to keep federal matching funds coming into the state, but there's still a waiting list for moms who need help with childcare.

• The state cut funding for community colleges by 58 percent, which was offset somewhat by tuition and fee increases at the schools. That means that fewer services are offered at a higher cost, making it harder for women to take classes and improve their skills.

• Temporary Aid for Needy Families, or TANF, was cut by 20 percent and a lifetime limit was reduced to just two years.

Add up all the cuts and you've made it a lot more difficult for women to break out of the cycle of poverty, says Laura Penny of the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona.

"It's hard enough to work and raise a family," Penny says. "Why would anyone make it harder for people?"

Penny said that spending money on programs that aid women and children has a significant return on investment because intact families have fewer problems that need government intervention down the road, as well as making it more likely that kids will get a better education and need less help in the future.

"The best and smartest investment of limited tax dollars, if you want to help families get out of poverty, is to invest in targeted early-childhood education and childcare," Penny says. "And both of those were eliminated, as was all-day kindergarten, which served the dual purpose of educating children and allowing moms to work."

BALANCING ACT

Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs is finally unveiling a state budget this week.

We'd go into the details, but Biggs' $9.2 billion proposal isn't likely to end up becoming law, for a number of reasons. For starters, it spends about $45 million less on creating a new version of Child Protective Services than Gov. Jan Brewer wants.

Brewer holds the cards here. She can veto any budget that comes her way, which means lawmakers could be stuck in the session for a long time.

And being stuck in session is House Speaker Andy Tobin's nightmare. Tobin is running in a three-way GOP primary against state Rep. Adam Kwasman and rancher Gary Kiehne for the chance to face Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick in November and the more time he has to spend fighting over a budget, the less time he has to raise money and talk to voters.

So it's hardly a surprise to learn that the House does not have a budget plan similar to the one that Biggs has introduced.

While the Senate budget isn't likely to become law, it does give Biggs a chance to tell conservatives that he tried to pass the type of budget they wanted—which is just another way that the entire budget process has become something of a sham.

In the old days, you'd have appropriation committees in both chambers that would present a budget, hold hearings and allow the public to testify about the relative importance of the various budget items. Sure, only a few people might have been tuning in, but at least the opportunity to comment was there.

These days, the budgets are cooked up behind closed doors and rammed through committee hearings in a day.

George Cunningham, a former Democratic state lawmaker who worked on budgets during the Napolitano administration, told The Skinny that the current crop of lawmakers have "skipped the dog-and-pony show part of the appropriations process, where the agencies present what the needs are and argue for them. ... I think the outcome of the appropriations process is improved with increased transparency."

ANIMAL HOUSE

The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously this week to ask voters to approve a $22 million bond on the November ballot to build a new pound for stray dogs and cats.

The current Pima Animal Care Center, built in 1968, is outdated and overcrowded, according to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, who said that at any one time, three to five animals are in kennels that are just four feet by six feet.

"The reason we're getting significant overcrowding is that we're retaining animals a lot longer to reduce the euthanasia rate," Huckelberry said.

As a result, in recent months, about four out of five of the animals taken in by the county end up being adopted out rather than put down.

There are a lot of improvements going on at PACC, including more opportunities for volunteers to help walk dogs and cuddle with cats. A new commercial-grade tent will soon be opening, which will ease overcrowding in the dog kennels.

But that's a temporary solution. If voters approve a new facility, it will be a state-of-the-art facility that will not only improve conditions for the animals but will also improve the county's ability to spay and neuter dogs and cats before they are adopted, which will help snip the stray-animal problem in the bud.

If voters approve the bond package, it will result in an property-tax increase of $3.90 a year on a house worth $147,800, which is the average value for a Pima County home.

But Huckelberry said the county expects to retire $50 million in bonds next year, so secondary property taxes are likely to decline even if it passes.

More by Jim Nintzel

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