(Photo by Albert Hong)
If there was one thing that people could take away from a recent panel discussion on how cuts to certain benefit programs would hurt America’s families, it’s that the world would be a much scarier place without them.
Cheryl Hill, a housing advocate who is currently homeless, said it best — “We would be done.”
Hill, along with four other speakers who are all currently benefitting from programs like SNAP and the Supplemental Security Income program, made up the “These Cuts Hurt” panel discussion hosted by Witnesses to Hunger and other social services groups on April 21.
Similarly to how the organization empowers people living in poverty to tell their stories, each panel member spoke about the real-life consequences they would have to face if some of the proposed cuts — including to housing, human services and healthcare programs — from the presidential administration were enacted.
Tianna Gaines-Turner, a member of Witnesses to Hunger since 2008, was first up and spoke about how the threat of the removal of SNAP and its benefits was a “personal attack” to people like her. Gaines-Turner, who has been homeless twice and raises three children, called upon members of government to try to step in their shoes when going about policy.
“Try to understand when you’re playing chess with our lives,” she said. “If you wanna know, ask me!”
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— PA Health Access (@pahealthaccess) April 21, 2017
On the topic of housing, it’s clear that the many problems with eviction and irresponsible landlords are still prevalent. Hill described how she and her family ended up getting evicted from their home after the landlord refused to fix faulty wiring. Soon after that eviction, tragedy struck in the form of the deaths of her fiancé and oldest son.
Hill said she eventually found help through the People’s Emergency Center. It was a life-changing moment for Hill, who talked about the initial shame that comes with being homeless.
“I’m one of them grateful homeless moms,” Hill said. “I’m not ashamed to be homeless. … Everybody needs help.”
Yovana Bustamente-Arroyo repeatedly thanked the SSI program for providing benefits to her and her children with disabilities. She stressed that she was speaking in the panel to stand up for her children: Her son needs these benefits to receive psychiatric treatment to avoid going to the hospital.
“I’m an advocate not only me but for my community and your community,” Bustamente-Arroyo said.
Bridget Henry, an advocate for the all-important legal aid services from organizations like Community Legal Services (CLS), also expressed gratitude for the “second chance” she received from CLS. As someone who had an arrest on her record from what she calls a misunderstanding, Henry said she was most surprised by the way CLS treated her with respect. She now owns her own child learning center and is currently a member of the board of trustees for CLS.
“I didn’t think that they cared … and I just want to thank you all for caring,” said Henry, who was also recently accepted to Temple University.
President Donald Trump has proposed cutting more than $6 billion to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would affect many of CLS’s clients.
— Albert Hong (@AtotheHONG) April 21, 2017
Adrianne Gutner is someone who needs insurance for her multiple sclerosis. That diagnosis when she was attending college halted all her future plans but even amidst the roadblocks that MS put in front of her, mostly dealing with paralysis, she said Medicaid — which has previously been on the president’s chopping block — is the hope that gets her through.
“Without Medicaid, without the hope that it gives me, I’m terrified I’m going to lose my insurance,” Gutner said. “Medicaid gives me hope — it’s the reason why I’m here.”
So what are the next steps?
For one audience member, getting voters engaged and educated about what’s at stake is key, as the May 16 election nears.
Sen. Bob Casey, who attended the panel and took notes from all the stories told, told the audience that he is “going to fight to the end of the Earth” to prevent these cuts from happening, but he can’t do it alone — as he pointed out, Casey is only one vote. It’s why he believes these kinds of stories need to continue to be told and broadcast.
“These programs help all of us,” Casey said. “We all gotta be witnesses. … We’re going to win but we need your help to do that.”