Dear Speaker Ryan,
I read that you will roll out your new poverty task force’s proposal tomorrow, and I wonder if you remember me. I testified at one of the hearings you hosted on the War on Poverty two years ago. Of the 17 expert witnesses who participated in the series, I was the only one who actually lived in poverty.
At the time I felt like I had the weight of so many people on my shoulders—people who don’t normally have a voice in Congress. How would Congress ever know what they should do to address poverty if they don’t ever speak to us?
I did my best to share my story and those of others in my community, and then I had the opportunity to meet you. As you reached to shake my hand, I said I wanted a hug. It was my way of trying to make our connection more personal—a reflection of my hope that we would begin to work together to make change around hunger and poverty.
As important as you said the issue was to you, I was sure that you would make a place in your work for me, my Witnesses to Hunger brothers and sisters, and many others who are living in poverty. Since 2008, we have used our photographs and testimonials to show the world what the experience of poverty is like and to advocate for serious change at the local, state, and national level.
So in the past two years, I reached out to your office numerous times. So did the people at Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities, where Witnesses to Hunger is based. Your office never responded to us. Unfortunately, people such as me and my husband and many others who are struggling continue to be shut out of your conversation in Washington.
As you may remember from my testimony, my husband and I work hard to provide for our family. I work at a community recreation center on afterschool programming for children. In recent years, my husband has worked the deli at a grocery store, overnight at a meat-packing plant, and as a security guard. He has endured two-hour commutes, worked night shifts, held multiple jobs at the same time—made the kinds of sacrifices a parent makes to try to lift up a family.
Yet despite our hard work, we’ve remained in poverty. Our three children suffer from epilepsy and asthma and take life-sustaining medication. We’ve rarely had benefits like paid leave that allow us to miss work without taking a hit to a paycheck. In 2008, our son was having seizures, and I had to leave my job to take care of him. Because of the lost income, we eventually lost our home and were homeless.