Lately, being a family with a low income feels like trying to survive an avalanche.
There are 45 million people in America living in poverty in the United States, and 42 million are living in the shadow of hunger. All are struggling to make ends meet and working hard to make it ahead.
But avalanches keep pushing downhill. Even standing in one spot is difficult and dangerous. This is the reality for people living on low incomes in the United States, constantly having to adjust, dodging and jumping over obstacles such as cuts to housing assistance, nutrition programs and health care as they come hurtling downhill. A hot or cold month means that high utility bills will cut into grocery money for the month. An overdraft fee from the bank means $20 fewer for kid’s prescriptions.
That’s why there needs to be more conversation between the people downhill and those who can touch off the avalanche with every false move at the top. Too often, people in poverty aren’t heard by their representatives in the Capitol. Too often, real, living people get lost in the line items of legislation and budgets.
Two years ago, the two of us attended the State of the Union Address together. One of us is a mother, wife and activist, working hard to provide for her family. The other is a United States senator who has spent his career trying to put in place a ladder of opportunity for all Americans, and also making sure there’s a safety net during times of particular need. Since then, we’ve gotten to know each other and spoken about our families, our work, our interests and our dreams.
Through that, we’ve been able to break down the barriers that can form between legislators and their constituents. Interactions like ours can break down the barriers between people and bring us back to speaking as equals and working together toward a common goal.
Despite our different backgrounds, we both agree on the importance of housing, health, and food. And we both agree on the need for funded programs to make sure these necessities get to our families, our seniors, our kids, and our veterans.
This week we saw and felt the rumblings of yet another avalanche. A budget that pushes families down, that will cause more hunger, more homelessness, and higher health-care costs. Crisis is not a big enough word for what families would face if these cuts came to pass. Vulnerable families would be crushed with no opportunity to get ahead.
For those who proposed these cuts, their families will not be impacted. They will not see less food in the fridge or lose their home. But working- and middle-class families across America will feel the effect acutely. For families who rely on SNAP, they will see lower benefits and less support. For families who rely on home assistance, this budget eliminates HOME, Community Development Block Grant and Choice Neighborhoods programs that give aid to both poor rural and urban communities. These communities nationally would lose close to $4.1 billion a year, and here in the commonwealth over $200 million, to improve basic infrastructure such as streets and water and sewer lines, provide life-enriching services to youth and seniors, build and rehabilitate affordable housing for low-income residents, and promote economic development.
That’s why it’s so critical for us to work together, a senator and a mother, to speak out about the real people taking the brunt of these cuts and how much it will hurt our nation.
America will not be made great by these false, dangerous moves. Having a hungrier, less educated and more vulnerable population will lead to less stability, less economic growth and less opportunity.
There needs to be a human face on every decision we make. We need to keep talking because, sometimes, people are so pre-occupied with numbers that they miss the people who are not legislative line items, but who are real, living people who work long, odd hours, care for their families, and need our support to reach their full potential.
As a senator and an activist we will continue to stand together to combat these inhumane and hurtful cuts. And we call you to join us, because we can’t afford another avalanche.
Robert Casey is a U.S. senator representing Pennsylvania. Tianna Gaines-Turner is a member of Witnesses to Hunger, a program hosted by the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University.