Aisha Nyandoro, CEO of Springboard to Opportunities, is a guest columnist for the Clarion Ledger. Her recent column describes the devastating impact of federal budget cuts on the families Springboard serves.
On Tuesday, the White House issued a budget proposal with the imposing title “A New Foundation for American Greatness.” It seems someone miscalculated the measurements for this new foundation, as it is only strong enough to hold up a minority of wealthy Americans while leaving millions of others out in the cold.
Tiffany, a single mom in one of our Mississippi Springboard communities, works 35 hours per week at a local nursing home and has three children ages 15, 8 and 3. Her kids attend public schools, receive health care through Medicaid, and have enough to eat each month thanks to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.
Tiffany wants to re-enroll in school in an effort to gain eligibility for a higher-paying job, but the time and money school would require seem impossible. Not to mention, she is already thinking about the cost of sending her oldest child to college in a few short years. Tiffany has a vehicle, which she needs to transport her children to school and herself to work, but it is an older model and is often in disrepair. While she meticulously budgets and works hard to save each month, most of what she puts away is spent repairing her car time and again.
I have told the stories of people like Tiffany hundreds of times before, and it is because of the Tiffanys of this nation that I cannot remain silent today.
Springboard To Opportunities was formed under a holistic vision and belief that, if we want to break cycles of generational poverty, we must begin looking at the bigger picture. Quality schools, health care, stable housing and food assistance are all essential pieces of this picture, yet one anti-poverty program on its own cannot solve the whole of the problem. But when we bring these programs together and provide families with well-rounded, supportive services and a strong safety net that allows them to seek new and gainful employment, go back to school and work toward their goals, we can experience real change and disrupt poverty cycles.
However, the budget released Tuesday morning by the White House takes the exact opposite approach, proposing not just to cut one or two services, but rather cut funding to almost all of the essential services families like Tiffany’s need to survive.
What will Tiffany do when her 3-year-old daughter is sick, and she can’t afford treatment or medication? What will happen when her car breaks down again, and there are no savings to pull from, because her grocery costs have skyrocketed after losing her SNAP benefits? Will she then be fired from her job due to lack of transportation?
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney has suggested able-bodied adults on benefits simply need to go back to work. But in reality, Mulvaney’s budget will make it harder for low-earning parents to keep the employment they already have.
And what about Tiffany’s children? Her oldest son has a part-time job and helps his mom care for his sisters every chance he gets. He has been thinking about attending college, but what if the cuts to federal student aid take away that opportunity? Tiffany’s daughter spoke with confidence and poise while giving the welcome speech recently at her second-grade graduation, but will her teacher recognize her emerging voice if classroom sizes get larger and already struggling teachers find themselves burdened by more budget cuts in public schools? Will this brilliant little girl receive the extra support we know low-income children need to be mentally and physically prepared for each school day?
Then, there’s Ms. Lily, who lives a few buildings down from Tiffany and sometimes watches her kids when Tiffany works late or has to get the car fixed again. Ms. Lily worked for almost 50 years after finishing high school, mostly at low-paying jobs with dry cleaners or tailors. She has no 401(k) or retirement plan from her past employers and was barely able to save during all her years of service. While President Trump claims he won’t cut into her Social Security check, she also relies on SNAP benefits to buy her groceries, because her small Social Security check is simply not enough to survive. Will Ms. Lily be expected to go back to work, despite her age, just so she can eat?
The president and his budget director have never met Tiffany or her three children. They have never taken the time to listen to Ms. Lily’s story or learn of the burdens placed on her each day. Nor have they taken time to look at the growing body of evidence that work requirements do not cut poverty rates, while powerful initiatives like SNAP, school lunch programs and the Earned Income Tax Credit actually do.
Those of us in Mississippi have met Tiffany and Ms. Lily. One in five households in the state receive some form of SNAP benefits, while close to one in four Mississippi residents receive health care through Medicaid. These are our neighbors, coworkers, classmates, families and friends. These are people we interact with and care for daily. They are us.
The White House’s proposed budget is not just bad policy; it is based on assumptions and biases that are flat-out wrong and predicated on their personal prejudices. Policymaking is only successful when it is connected to the voices and stories of the people affected, and the Trump administration has failed to listen. I have been committed, since Springboard’s inception, to a vision that not only provides supportive services for our families but also offers a platform for their voices to be heard. Today, I am more committed than ever to telling the stories of Tiffany, Ms. Lily and millions of others like them. I ask that you join with me; collectively, our voices will be loud enough that those in power are forced to listen.
This is not the America my ancestors envisioned. America is not great when we leave the 41 million Americans who receive SNAP benefits without food. America is not great when we deny 7 million citizens on Medicaid access to health care. It is certainly not great when 50.4 million public school students are offered sub-par education so a handful of students can attend private schools. Making America great again requires creating policy and enacting legislation that works in favor of families-upon whose backs this country is built — and closes the gap that separates millions from high-quality education, opportunities for success and good quality of life.
So, yes, President Trump, let’s lay a new foundation for American greatness, and let’s start by treating all of our neighbors with the dignity and respect they deserve.
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