One of the most powerful things we can do is share our stories. Stories show where we’ve come from, describe what moves us, and help us to make meaning of our lives. Last week, more than a thousand people answered our call to send a letter to Governor Brown asking him to pass the budget sent to him by the legislature. This proposed budget rejected severe cuts to CalWORKs, childcare and Cal Grants. A lot has happened since then, and in the next few days, we’ll comment on the version of the budget hammered out by Governor Brown and the legislature.
But today, we want to share some stories with you. In addition to sending letters to the Governor, some people sent us stories telling us why these programs matter to them. Because stories can show the effect of public policy, often seen as abstract, on real people’s lives. On Friday, our CEO, Judy Patrick, delivered the letters to Governor Brown. In addition to writing her own letter, in which she expressed concern about the values expressed in the budget, Judy shared stories from people who supported the Stand with Women campaign.
We heard from a woman in Placerville who said that she is in contact with low-income parents who cannot take a job or continue to work because they cannot afford to pay for childcare.
A mother in Alhambra described the critical role that cash aid played for her after she left an abusive relationship. By utilizing every available program offered by CalWORKs – from counseling to childcare to rental assistance – she was able to break the cycle of abuse and graduate with a degree in paralegal studies. “Without the help of the CalWORKs program, I don’t know where my daughter and I would be. It is because of this program that I have the opportunity to set my future goal to be a non-profit attorney.”
A county employee with two children shared how her children have benefited from Medi-Cal, because the insurance she could get from the county would cost $600/month and had a 20 percent deductible, which she could not afford. “Between insurance and taxes, I bring home close to 15,000 a year. . . My children have also been on food stamps, which assisted us after a surgery I had a few years back that put me behind 4 months on rent. These benefits are not just only for the homeless, but mainly for the working class, those of us who are working hard.”
A mother in Potter Valley described benefiting from AFDC (Assistance to Families with Dependent Children), a former iteration of welfare, and food stamps. She explained that at that time, there was little done to help people like her get the education and job training necessary to become gainfully employed because AFDC was considered an entitlement. “When I finally found out that I could attend college and get an education through the assistance of the Board of Governors Fee Waiver and receive some assistance with books through the GAIN program (now CalWORKs), it transformed my life and the lives of my children. I have been working ever since, 20 years. . . I own a home. I pay taxes, vote in every local, state and federal election, and I volunteer in my community.”
Whether because of domestic violence, medical injuries, divorce or unemployment, sometime people fall on hard times. The stories we received emphasize the importance of supports that help people make it through those times. They emphasized that supports at the right time can make a difference that lasts a lifetime.