Last month, the Affordable Healthcare Act celebrated its one-year anniversary, and still its future as real reform for this country is in question. Although many people put health care near the top of their list of Most Important Issues, I rarely hear anyone describe it as our right. It is rather a “benefit” for those lucky enough to have a job.
What does this have to do with violence in relationships? A lot. For example, if leaving an abuser means losing health coverage for your kids, you may choose to stay. These kinds of choices are going to get tougher for survivors in Washington, as our budget crisis gets worse and the state Basic Health program for low income families looks like it’s going to get eliminated.
I think most folks would tell you that we have a right to live free of violence. And many would agree that we also have a right to determine our own path in life and make our own choices. But the reality is that you don’t get to tap into these rights if you are not healthy and cannot access the care you need. Health care is just one piece of the complex puzzle that put us closer to lives without violence, but it’s a vital piece. Let’s change how we think about health care in this country. It should not be just a benefit. It’s our right.
I cried at work this week. More than once. It’s something I don’t often do. Like so many of us, I’ve learned to become desensitized, detached even, to the horrific tales of suffering that I hear. But then I met Claire.
Claire has five kids between 6 months and 16 years. She was a teenage mom and has suffered abuse her whole life. She’s had to go on welfare several times since she was a teen on her own. Now it looks like she’s about to lose this safety net no matter how bad things get.
In Washington, you will soon get cut off of welfare if you’ve been on for a total of 5 years. Losing these benefits is about to be a new reality for many struggling families and is a direct result of our state’s budget crisis.
I could tell you more sad and horrible details about Claire’s life in an effort to convince you that what’s happened to her is not her fault. But I think you’ve heard stories like this before. I remember what it was like for me before I started this work. When I heard about an awful situation I thought “I must not know all the facts. They might have made bad choices.”
After years of working with people living in poverty, I now know that there is not always the opportunity to grab those bootstraps and pull your way out. Meeting Claire hammered this home for me once again.
Claire has worked harder in her life than I will ever have to. She’s surely made a few mistakes, but haven’t we all? She has also done a lot of things right. So it makes me angry that in this country, where we have so much, she should get so little for all her efforts.
I am asking you to change your perception of people on welfare. It’s supposed to be a safety net when a person falls on hard times, but over the past 14 years this net has been neglected and cut to the point where it’s not very reliable anymore. Welfare is not a dirty word and it should be there to catch us if we fall.
It’s a week after mid-term elections, and I have to say I’m still feeling the sting. Facing a colossal gap in our state’s budget, our ballot was filled with strategies to bring in some new money. Voters said no. Now our state and local governments will have to make devastating cuts to critical services.
I’ve always thought of taxes as a good thing – membership dues I gladly pay in exchange for a vast array of services (running water, meat I’m not afraid to eat, civil rights, cancer research, and so on). But others hold a different view, and now we shall see what happens when government must do less with less.
My thoughts naturally turn to my own work. And not just selfish ruminations about whether or not I’ll still have a job (though as the mother of a child with many special needs, income and health insurance are indeed big concerns). Rather, I worry – and wonder – what will become of the work: the work to end domestic and sexual violence. Over the last few decades, our government has increasingly funded efforts to support victims and stop abuse and rape. I am proud that we the people have invested tax dollars in what used to be considered a private problem.
But now the variables have changed again. Our great radical experiment to create a world of loving and equitable relationships will need some new strategies. We the people can no longer rely as much on our government to take care of this for us. So what happens now?