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Tucson Opinion: The pandemic was tough on women, but there are resources to help
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Tucson Opinion: The pandemic was tough on women, but there are resources to help

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The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Nearly 3 million American women have suddenly vanished, and we have no idea if they’ll ever return. We of course mean the women who have been forced to drop out of the labor force over the past year in a COVID-related exodus that will have an impact lasting generations.

The Pew Research Center reports nearly 2.5 million more women than men lost their jobs from February to May last year. As school buildings closed, women have had to leave jobs to care for children.

Female business owners have had to close their doors, not knowing if they’ll ever reopen. Black, Latina and other women of color, already far behind their white male and female counterparts, have been pushed even further into poverty. Over a year into the pandemic there is no doubt that women are bearing the brunt of this ongoing social and economic catastrophe.

Arizona is not immune from this crisis. According to the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, more than 1 million Arizonans will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. For those Arizonans, staying home during a pandemic can be deadly.

In 2020, the Pima County Attorney’s Office experienced an up to 50% increase in domestic violence cases during some months compared to 2019. “Since March, it’s about a 32% increase in the amount of felony-level cases coming through the Pima County Attorney’s office,” Joseph Ricks, domestic violence supervisor for the Pima County Attorney’s Office said.

Ed Mercurio-Sakwa, CEO of Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse in Tucson has said that Emerge experienced a declining number of calls during the height of the pandemic, and they’re only just beginning to return to normal levels. That’s because victims who called the hotline said that isolating with their abusers made reaching out for help more challenging and dangerous.

While these numbers are alarming, there are solutions to help Arizona women and children, if Arizona’s leaders and governor are brave and compassionate enough to take them on. Arizona state and local governments will receive an estimated $7.48 billion that could be spent any time before the end of 2024, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, passed by Democrats and signed by President Biden.

That’s money for our communities, schools, workers, families and so much more to build back better and stronger after the pandemic. On top of that critical funding, Arizona also has a $351 million budget surplus that should be used to help Arizonans. It is imperative that these critical funds reach the people who need it most.

To do that, we need to fund critical social safety net programs in Arizona that Democrats and Arizonans have long supported. Those programs include expanding access to childcare subsidies and food programs, paid family leave, kinship care stipends for people who take in their family members children, increasing unemployment insurance benefits for Arizonans who’ve been pushed out of work due the pandemic, small business grants to local businesses that’ve been forced to close or lay off workers, and rent and mortgage relief for renters and homeowners.

This is only a handful of programs that will make Arizona stronger. Our government’s response has failed to meet this historic challenge and exposed severe flaws in our social safety net. The pandemic has further exposed gender and race-based health disparities in Arizona, and we must work to identify and address these issues. We have the ideas and resources to make a difference. We only need the political will.

Victoria Steele is a Democratic member of the Arizona Senate representing District 9.

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