My husband and I played the “We’re so lucky” game the other night. Talking about how incredibly blessed we are: to have jobs that we love; to have each other; to have a home; a family that supports and love us…the list goes on and on. The game was spurred from a conversation about the pending benefit cuts in our state’s budget.
Washington State is proposing massive cuts to financial aid. They are proposing to eliminate all funding for Disability Lifeline, and to cut TANF, Food stamps, and health care. This after they have already cut those budgets twice. Right now, an individual on Disability Lifeline receives $266 a month. Tell me, how in the world do you live on $266 a month? Food stamps have been slashed, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) has been cut, both in the last year. And they are facing more cuts. That means more disabled individuals will lose their subsidized housing, when they lose their only source of income. That means more mothers will have to choose between food and shelter. That means more hungry people, trying to find a meal.
I work with these individuals. I work with these mothers who have fled domestic violence, and have to depend on government assistance, because, try as they might (and believe me, they try!) they cannot find a job. I work with these individuals who have such severe physical or mental disabilities that they are incapable of earning a living wage. I know these people by name, who depend on whatever assistance is available, just so they can live.
With these cuts, more men, women and children will be on the streets. Right now, the average wait to get into a domestic violence shelter in King County is over a week. The average wait to get into an emergency family shelter is 3 weeks. Three weeks! For an emergency shelter. I am currently working with a mother who has 7 children. Seven beautiful, well-behaved, smart kids who didn’t ask to be homeless. They have been waiting for a month for a spot to open up somewhere. Anywhere. Their mom has been fighting, to no avail, to get on some kind of government assistance, just until she can get a job. In the last three weeks she has applied to 22 different jobs, with only one call back. She didn’t ask for this. I know of a grandmother, who is caring for her two grandchildren. The three of them live off the meager $266 from Disability Lifeline – less really, if you factor in that her subsidized housing is 30% of her income. If she loses her check, she will losing her housing. And then what?
Then what Washington?
I know that I am lucky. Damn lucky. I have been blessed with my health. Both my husband and I have stable incomes. And if, God forbid, something were to happen – if one of us were to fall ill, lose a job, our savings, our home – we know without a doubt any number of family members would step in. Friends would offer us a place to stay. Yes, we are so so lucky.
But what about those who don’t have stable family? Those whose friends are in the same boat they are in? Those who have lost a job, a spouse, their savings, their hope? Where is their luck?
It makes me weep with anger. It makes me want to scream. It really makes me want to force those Olympian decision makers to try to live off of the scant incomes they are getting ready to cut for one month. Hell, see if you can live off of that for one week!
And so I urge you – do what you can to effect change. Say something. Write a letter. Call a representative. Rally. Donate food to a food bank. Talk to your church about opening your doors at night as a shelter. Go visit a shelter and let the people there know that someone actually gives a damn.
And remember, and be thankful every day, for your own stroke of luck, recognizing that at any moment, it too could turn.