TRENTON – After learning that $6 million from a job training program for women and minorities will be lapsed into the General Fund in the current budget, a group of female Senators that serve on the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee said that the money would be put to better use by restoring drastic cuts to women’s healthcare programs that the Governor instituted since he took office.
“Rather than funnel unused job training dollars back into the General Budget, the unused funds should instead be invested in women’s healthcare for women who have been unable to find work in the current job market,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen. “When Governor Christie drastically cut funding for women’s health care in the last two State budgets, he made it more difficult for women to access the tests and treatments which can save lives. If we’re now at a point where we can identify surplus funds in underutilized programs, our first priority should be restoring some of the painful cuts from budgets past.”
During today’s Budget Committee hearing for the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Labor Commissioner Hal Wirths reported to the committee that $6 million from the New Jersey Builders Utilization Initiative for Labor Diversity (NJ BUILD) program would be lapsed into the General Fund under the governor’s proposed FY 2012 spending plan. Wirths said that the program, which is intended to train minorities and women in construction trades, has been underutilized because of the slow-down in the building trades industries. NJ BUILD is funded by an assessment of one-half of one percent of the total cost of any public works contracts in excess of $1 million.
The Legislators said that while they would have rather seen the funding used for its intended purpose of job training, funding for access to healthcare makes sense.
“As unemployed women are finding it harder and harder to access basic health services, we need to strengthen our State’s safety net to make sure that no one gets left behind,” said state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex. “If the NJ BUILD job training program is being underutilized, let’s put those dollars where the demand is, and fund women’s health care. In addition to doing the right thing by our State’s struggling women, investing in women’s healthcare would also leverage up to a 9-to-1 match from the federal government on health care expenses attributed to Medicaid-eligible women.”
In his first State Budget, Governor Christie cut $7.5 million in State funding for women’s healthcare programs, resulting in making New Jersey ineligible for an $18 million match in federal dollars. The Governor’s cuts have directly resulted in at least two women’s healthcare facilities shutting their doors forever, and many others drastically reducing hours and laying off staff just to get by. In 2010, family planning centers and women’s healthcare clinics saw 40,000 fewer patients than they did in 2009.
“These facilities provide such vital services as blood pressure screening, gynecological exams, mammograms, pre- and post-natal care, and access to contraception,” said state Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer. “The Governor has repeatedly said that the funds aren’t there, but by using surplus funds within a program designed to provide job training to women, we can get more back from the federal government than we put in. This is the right thing to do to protect women and ensure we’re getting a better return on our federal tax dollars.”
The lawmakers said that Christie’s women’s healthcare cuts come at a time when the federal government is ramping up support for states to expand – not contract – programs designed to help the working poor access basic health care services. They said that by slashing funds for women’s healthcare, Christie has put greater pressure on other safety net programs – which are also dealing with cutbacks imposed by his administration.
“As people struggle to find meaningful employment, these safety net programs are vital to protecting the poor and those who would never be able to afford health insurance on their own,” said state Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic and Bergen. “When you cut from one program, you’re weakening the safety net across the board. Hopefully, the Governor can see fit to use surplus funds in the NJ BUILD program to reinforce the safety net and restore funding to women’s health programs.”
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