How does the looming “fiscal cliff,” which threatens to raise taxes on just about everyone and reduce essential services, impact Latinas? Given that Latinas have barely been mentioned in the media firestorm about the looming budget crisis, it’s not surprising many of us aren’t thinking of this as one of our issues. But the stakes for Latinas and their families are disproportionately enormous.

Congressional Republicans oppose higher taxes on our wealthiest and instead seek to lower the deficit by eliminating the kinds of services that are critical to Latino families

- Jessica González-Rojas

Many Latinas already face a “fiscal cliff,” living month to month with no safety net. This includes families across the income spectrum, from poor to middle class families, who are just one mishap away from financial collapse, whether it be a job layoff or a sick child or the mundane roadblocks like a pricey car repair that means some months the ends just don’t meet. In fact, studies show that Latino families that self-define as middle class in reality have fewer financial resources than white families who consider themselves middle class. It is families like these, those at most risk of economic collapse, that will be most impacted by a “fiscal cliff” that raises taxes and eliminates essential services.

It will be families like those of Paula, a volunteer with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in South Texas. Paula is a busy mother who supports her four children, ages 2 to 18, including a son in college. Right, now Paula is the sole breadwinner for her family as her partner pursues a degree in math education. After losing her full-time job of four years, she now works two part-time jobs to take care of her family, juggling her own college schedule, too. Families like hers can’t afford even small tax increases or to lose access to important services. Even a small push could send Paula’s family, and many more like it, over the cliff.

Let’s be clear: Politicians built this fiscal cliff over a decade of partisan gridlock, and, having constructed this crisis, they are now debating whether and how to push us off the edge. If politicians don’t make any changes in the coming weeks, everyone will end up paying more in taxes but it will be the middle class and the poor that will fall most deeply into despair as the take home in our paychecks plummets and Congress slashes social services for the most needy. But politicians have the power to disassemble the hardship cliff they built. 

If Congress takes action and President Obama’s plan prevails, those with an income less than $250,000 a year will not be impacted in their paychecks, and many vital social services will remain intact.  

The fiscal cliff cuts will hit those who can least afford it the hardest. More Latino children already live in poverty compared to children of any other racial or ethnic group, yet their parents will bring home less pay for the same work when taxes rise. Low and middle-income families will see the child tax credit plummet from $1,000 per child to $500 per child. And those who remain unemployed will lose their long-term unemployment benefits, which is certain to push even more families further into poverty. Overall income status has deteriorated for Latinos over the past decade, and we are more likely to fall into the lower class --and less likely to rise into the upper class-- than either whites or blacks, according to the Pew Research Center.  Make no mistake: Latino families are in the bull's eye of this budget battle.

It’s unconscionable that our leaders are focused on partisan bickering while families are threatened with economic hardship. The impact of demanding more taxes in exchange for fewer services will be significant for years to come. For example, in the wake of new reports showing record numbers of Latino youth attending and graduating from college, the tax credit for low- and middle-income parents who are paying college tuition will be slashed. That means fewer kids in need will get a college education. And essential programs will be reduced or eliminated. From HIV prevention to education, every investment in our communities is at risk.

As it stands today, the White House and Congressional Democrats favor a plan that reduces the national deficit by combining higher taxes on America’s top 2 percent and some spending cuts, which will need to be closely monitored. But the plan preserves key tax credits for those most at need. Congressional Republicans oppose higher taxes on our wealthiest and instead seek to lower the deficit by eliminating the kinds of services that are critical to Latino families.

For Latinas, who already face a disproportionate number of barriers to accessing quality health care, including reproductive care, the Republican plan is nothing but bad news. The same lawmakers that have spent a good deal of energy trying to slash access to reproductive health care services and safety net programs for the poor will be deciding how to slash spending on essential services.

Latinas are the backbones of their families and communities, often caring for many loved ones beyond their immediate families. Being pushed off the fiscal cliff will cause serious harm to Latinas. Latinos have the highest poverty rate of any demographic group — more than half of us live close to or below the poverty line, and imposing higher taxes could push many of us across it and into poverty. As the leader of a national reproductive health care organization, I know that far too often poverty and negative health outcomes, like higher rates of unintended pregnancy and inability to access life-saving cancer screenings, are inextricably linked. Pushing more Latinas into poverty means pushing more Latinas away from quality health care, including crucial reproductive care.

President Obama’s detailed plan will prevent tax increases for Latinas who can’t afford them, while preserving important programs and reduce the deficit without placing additional burdens on Latinas. The bill to enact his plan has been passed by the Senate. I’ll be contacting my representative in Congress to urge them to pass the bill as well, so it can become law. I’ll be telling my representative, “¡No tire a las Latinas!” I hope you’ll join me in ensuring our community remains grounded and a sensible tax plan is passed, so all of our families can thrive.

Jessica González-Rojas is the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.