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Women’s Caucus Details Priorities Before LHHSE Subcommittee

Continuing a longstanding tradition, members of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues on May 16 testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Caucus Co-Chairs Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA) were joined by Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Connie Morella (R-MD), Karen Thurman (D-FL), and Heather Wilson (R-NM).

Rep. Biggert expressed her support for increased funding for education for homeless children. “Studies show that homeless children have four times the rate of delayed development, are twice as likely to repeat a grade, and are more susceptible to homelessness as adults,” she said, requesting $70 million for the McKinney Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program.

Rep. Biggert also called for the subcommittee to fully fund math and science education programs at $450 million. “A number of recent studies underscore that girls fall behind boys in math and science skills, and the gap widens in the upper grades,” she said, adding, “Our new, high-tech economy demands that students have stronger math and science skills.”

In focusing her remarks on women’s health issues, Rep. Millender-McDonald called for increased funding for cardiovascular diseases, HIV/AIDS, and racial health disparities. “Heart disease is the number one killer of American women,” she said, calling for $5 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) heart disease and stroke prevention programs.

Rep. Millender-McDonald also requested $5 million for mother-to-child HIV transmission prevention programs and $50 million for the Public Health Service’s Office of Minority Health. In addressing racial health disparities, she said, “Infant mortality rates are 14 deaths per 1,000 live births for blacks versus 6 per 1,000 for whites….We must be aggressive on this issue. We must exercise all available options to address and resolve this tragic racial gap at birth and during the lifetime of our minority citizens.”

Noting that caregiving responsibilities generally fall to women, Rep. Thurman urged the subcommittee to increase funding for the National Family Caregivers Support Program. She shared her personal story with the struggle to provide care for her dying mother. “My mother wanted to spend her last days in our home where she felt most comfortable. With the assistance of home health care, I was able to ensure that she received the professional medical attention she needed on a daily basis,” she said, adding, “This care was not inexpensive. I had to pay $26 per hour for this skilled care.”

In addition, she discussed the importance of providing preventive services such as pap smears and mammography screening through Medicare. “One-quarter of all new cases of cervical cancer are in women over age 65…and 40% of deaths due to cervical cancer occur in women over age 65,” she said. Rep. Thurman also touched on funding for osteoporosis research and the impending nursing shortage.

Rep. Wilson discussed cardiovascular disease in women and urged the subcommittee to increase funding for the CDC’s WISEWOMAN program, which provides cardiovascular screening to uninsured women who are seen through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. She also noted the importance of addressing diabetes, pointing out that Native Americans have the highest rates of diabetes among any racial or ethnic group. “Both diabetes and heart disease are rising problems for women’s health,” she said. “Prevention programs that screen and educate women about their risk and what they can do to help themselves is one of the best life-saving and money-saving investments we can make with federal dollars.”

Rep. Wilson also expressed support for math and science education programs, the Early Reading First program, quality child care, and increased funding for charter schools.

“Women are the fastest growing group of people with HIV,” said Rep. Morella, who urged the subcommittee to provide $100 million for the development of a microbicide to prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Saying that “tuberculosis kills more women worldwide than all other causes of maternal mortality combined,” Rep. Morella requested $528 million for CDC efforts to eliminate tuberculosis. Additionally, Rep. Morella highlighted the need for increased funding for Violence Against Women Act programs, breast cancer research, the Women in Apprenticeships and Nontraditional Occupations Act, the campus-based child care program, and the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).

Highlighting the need for increased funding for mental illness, Rep. Kaptur said, “Disorders such as major depression and dysthymia…affect women much more than men: an estimated 12% of U.S. women, in contrast to 6.6% of men, will experience a depressive disorder during a one-year period.” She urged the subcommittee to provide $1.454 billion for the National Institute of Mental Health at the National Institutes of Health.

Rep. Kaptur also urged the subcommittee to provide an additional $11.25 billion in discretionary funding for the CCDBG over the next five years and to increase the maximum Pell Grant to $4,500 per student.

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