+
Democracy

Single mom perfectly explains to Congress why the U.S. poverty line needs a total rehaul

Single mom perfectly explains to Congress why the U.S. poverty line needs a total rehaul
Photo by Ev on Unsplash

This article originally appeared on 03.10.20


Nearly 12 percent of the U.S. population lives in poverty. That's more than one in ten Americans—and the percent is even higher for children.

If you're not up on the current numbers, the federal poverty line is $12,760 for an individuals and $26,200 for a family of four. If those annual incomes sound abysmally low, it's because they are. And incredibly, the Trump administration has proposed lowering the poverty line further, which would make more poor Americans ineligible for needed assistance.


However, debates over the poverty line don't even capture the full extent of Americans struggling to make ends meet. For many people, living above the poverty line is actually worse. These are the folks who make too much to qualify for aid programs but not enough to actually get by—a situation millions of working American families find themselves stuck in.

Amy Jo Hutchison is a single mother of two living in West Virginia, and a community organizer for West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families and Our Future West Virginia. She has also lived in poverty and been part of the working poor herself. In an impassioned speech, she spoke to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform about what poverty really looks like for working families—and even called out Congress for being completely out of touch with what it takes for a family to live on while they're spending $40,000 a year on office furniture.

Watch Hutchison's testimony here (transcript included below):

Ms. Hutchison Testimony on Proposed Changes to the Poverty Line Calculation

"I'm here to help you better understand poverty because poverty is my lived experience. And I'm also here to acknowledge the biased beliefs that poor people are lazy and the poverty is their fault. But how do I make you understand things like working full-time for $10 an hour is only about $19,000 a year, even though it's well above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour?

I want to tell you about a single mom I met who was working at a gas station. She was promoted to manager within 30 days. She had to report her new income the DHHR within 60 days. Her rent bumped from $475 to $950 a month, she lost her SNAP benefits and her family's health insurance, so she did what poor people are forced to do all the time. She resigned her promotion and went back to working part-time, just so she and her family could survive.

Another single mom I know encouraged her kids to get jobs. For her DHHR review she had to claim their income as well. She lost her SNAP benefits and her insurance, so she weaned herself off of her blood pressure medicines because she—working full-time in a bank and part-time at a shop on the weekends—couldn't afford to buy them. Eventually the girls quit their jobs because their part-time fast food income was literally killing their mother.

You see the thing is children aren't going to escape poverty as long as they're relying on a head of household who is poor. Poverty rolls off the backs of parents, right onto the shoulders of our children, despite how hard we try.

I can tell you about my own with food insecurity the nights I went to bed hungry so my kids could have seconds, and I was employed full time as a Head Start teacher. I can tell you about being above the poverty guideline, nursing my gallbladder with essential oils and prayer, chewing on cloves and eating ibuprofen like they're Tic Tacs because I don't have health insurance and I can't afford a dentist. I have two jobs and a bachelor's degree, and I struggle to make ends meet.

The federal poverty guidelines say that I'm not poor, but I cashed in a jar full of change the other night so my daughter could attend a high school band competition with her band. I can't go grocery shopping without a calculator. I had to decide which bills not to pay to be here in this room today. Believe me, I've pulled myself up by the bootstraps so many damn times that I've ripped them off.

The current poverty guidelines are ridiculously out of touch. The poverty line for a family of three is $21,720. Where I live, because of the oil and gas boom, a 3-bedroom home runs for $1,200 a month. So if I made $22,000 a year, which could disqualify me from assistance, I would have $8000 left to raise two children and myself on. And yet the poverty guidelines wouldn't classify me as poor.

I Googled 'congressman salary' the other day and according to Senate gov the salary for Senators representatives and delegates is $174,000 a year so a year of work for you is the equivalent of almost four years of work for me. I'm $24,000 above the federal poverty guidelines definition of poor. It would take nine people working full-time for a year at $10 an hour to match y'all's salary. I also read that each senator has authorized $40,000 dollars for state office furniture and furnishings, and this amount is increased each year to reflect inflation.

That $40,000 a year for furniture is $360 more than the federal poverty guidelines for a family of seven, and yet here I am begging you on behalf of the 15 million children living in poverty in the United States—on behalf of the one in three kids under the age of five and nearly 100,000 children in my state of West Virginia living in poverty—to not change anything about these federal poverty guidelines until you can make them relevant and reflect what poverty really looks like today.

You have a $40,000 dollar furniture allotment. West Virginia has a median income of $43,000 and some change. People are working full-time and are hungry. Kids are about to be kicked off the free and reduced lunch rolls because of changes y'all want to make to SNAP, even though 62 percent of West Virginia SNAP recipients are families with children—the very same children who cannot take a part-time job because their parents will die without insurance. People are working full-time in this country for very little money.


They're not poor enough to get help. They don't make enough to get by. They're working while their rationing their insulin and their skipping their meds because they can't afford food and healthcare at the same time.

So shame on you. Shame on you, and shame on me, and shame on each and every one of us who haven't rattled the windows of these buildings with cries of outrage at a government that thinks their office furniture is worthy of $40,000 a year and families and children aren't.

I'm not asking you to apologize for your privilege but I'm asking you to see past it. There are 46 million Americans living in poverty doing the best they know how with what they have and we, in defense of children and families, cannot accept anything less from our very own government."

In addition to Hutchison's testimony, a coalition of 26 patient organizations, including the American Cancer Society Action Network, American Heart Association, and United Way, wrote a joint letter opposing the proposed lowering of the poverty line, stating:

"The current Official Poverty Measure (OPM) is based on an old formula that already does not fully capture those living in poverty and does not accurately reflect basic household expenses for families, including by underestimating child care and housing expenses. The proposed changes to the inflation calculation would reduce the annual adjustments to the poverty measure and therefore may exacerbate existing weaknesses, putting vulnerable Americans – including those with serious and chronic diseases – at great risk. Further lowering the poverty line would also give policymakers and the public less credible information about the number and characteristics of Americans living in poverty."

Pop Culture

One moment in history shot Tracy Chapman to music stardom. Watch it now.

She captivated millions with nothing but her guitar and an iconic voice.

Imagine being in the crowd and hearing "Fast Car" for the first time

While a catchy hook might make a song go viral, very few songs create such a unifying impact that they achieve timeless resonance. Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” is one of those songs.

So much courage and raw honesty is packed into the lyrics, only to be elevated by Chapman’s signature androgynous and soulful voice. Imagine being in the crowd and seeing her as a relatively unknown talent and hearing that song for the first time. Would you instantly recognize that you were witnessing a pivotal moment in musical history?

For concert goers at Wembley Stadium in the late 80s, this was the scenario.

Keep ReadingShow less

Tater Tots, fresh out of the oven.

It’s hard to imagine growing up in America without Tater Tots. They are one of the most popular kiddie foods, right up there with chicken nuggets, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. The funny thing is the only reason Tater Tots exist is that their creators needed something to do with leftover food waste.

The Tater Tot is the brainchild of two Mormon brothers, F. Nephi and Golden Grigg, who started a factory on the Oregon-Idaho border that they appropriately named Ore-Ida. The brothers started the factory in 1951 after being convinced that frozen foods were the next big thing.

According to Eater, between 1945 and 1946, Americans bought 800 million pounds of frozen food.

Keep ReadingShow less

Finally, someone explains why we all need subtitles

It seems everyone needs subtitles nowadays in order to "hear" the television. This is something that has become more common over the past decade and it's caused people to question if their hearing is going bad or if perhaps actors have gotten lazy with enunciation.

So if you've been wondering if it's just you who needs subtitles in order to watch the latest marathon-worthy show, worry no more. Vox video producer Edward Vega interviewed dialogue editor Austin Olivia Kendrick to get to the bottom of why we can't seem to make out what the actors are saying anymore. It turns out it's technology's fault, and to get to how we got here, Vega and Kendrick took us back in time.

They first explained that way back when movies were first moving from silent film to spoken dialogue, actors had to enunciate and project loudly while speaking directly into a large microphone. If they spoke and moved like actors do today, it would sound almost as if someone were giving a drive-by soliloquy while circling the block. You'd only hear every other sentence or two.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

Developmental scientist shared her 'anti-parenting advice' and parents are relieved

In a viral Twitter thread, Dorsa Amir addresses the "extreme pressure put on parents in the West."

Photo by kabita Darlami on Unsplash, @DorsaAmir/Twitter

Parents, maybe give yourselves a break

For every grain of sand on all the world’s beaches, for every star in the known universe…there is a piece well intentioned, but possibly stress-including parenting advice.

Whether it’s the astounding amount of hidden dangers that parents might be unwittingly exposing their child to, or the myriad ways they might be missing on maximizing every moment of interaction, the internet is teeming with so much information that it can be impossible for parents to feel like they’re doing enough to protect and nurture their kids.

However, developmental scientist and mom Dorsa Amir has a bit of “anti-parenting advice” that help parents worry a little less about how they’re measuring up.

First and foremost—not everything has to be a learning opportunity. Honestly, this wisdom also applies to adults who feel the need to be consistently productive…raises hand while doing taxes and listening to a podcast on personal development
Keep ReadingShow less

A guy with road rage screaming out of his car.

A psychologist who’s an expert in narcissism has released a telling video that reveals one of the red flags of the disorder, being an erratic driver.

"Most people, when they tell the story backwards of a narcissistic relationship, are able to see the red flags very clearly,” Dr. Ramani said in her video. “However, seeing them forwards isn't hard. But if you see them too late, it means you've already been through the narcissistic relationship, you're devastated and have likely wasted a lot of time."

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, Professor Emerita of Psychology at California State University and author of several books, including “Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving A Relationship with a Narcissist.”

Keep ReadingShow less
www.youtube.com

Man hailed 'Highway Hero' for running across four lanes of traffic

Holy cow, Bat Man! You're always supposed to be aware of other vehicles when you're driving but what do you do when you notice someone has lost consciousness while speeding down the highway?

It's a scenario that no one wants to see play out, but for Adolfo Molina, the scenario became reality and he didn't hesitate to spring into action. Molina was driving down the highway when he spotted a woman in a blue car who lost consciousness as her car careened down the shoulder of the highway. The concerned driver quickly pulled over in order to attempt to rescue the woman.

But there was a problem, he had to cross four lanes of traffic on the highway just to make it to the woman's still moving car. That obstacle didn't stop him. Molina sprinted across the highway, crossing right in front of a black pick up truck before running at full speed to attempt to open the woman's door and stop her car.

Keep ReadingShow less