When I was a young newlywed and first-time mom, the older women from my church brought me necessary items to fill my home. Although that was 19 years ago, I still have handmade potholders, threadbare and mismatched sheets, and random kitchen utensils that can, without warning, bring tears of gratitude to my eyes.
Like me, my church was poor. They gave what they couldwe even got the offering plate a time or twobut it wasnt enough to live on.
The church I go to now is not poor. It is full of affluent people who give all they can, and then give some more. Yet the streets surrounding the church are still full of the homeless.
A few blocks from that church, and the homeless men and women who surround it, is the law school that taught me about ways to help other than distributing hand-me-down potholders and a hard-earned tithesuch as providing legal assistance to the poor, crafting policy, and entering into local government. I have done every one of those things, and I am raising my children to do the same.
But it wasnt always this way. I used to be a welfare mom. During those lean years, I worked, parented, and received both my bachelors and law degrees.
Some might say I pulled myself up by my bootstraps.
Others might say I should have relied on the kindness of others, not the state.
There are others still who might say higher education is a luxury that the state should not subsidize.
It is certainly true that I could have aimed lower. After all, it wasnt easy to go to law school full time while also working and raising a family. But I did it. Now I help others, instead of asking others to help me.
But the fact is, not all people can go on to college or professional school. Not everyone has a supportive family to help them navigate complex applications and childcare schedules, or the benefit of well-educated parents. Not everyone has a faith community at all, let alone one able to help to any great extent. So while things were very tough for me, I knew even in the midst of financial hardship that I was one of the more fortunate.
Earlier this week, Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, in regard to the Affordable Care Act, stated that …President Obama cant wait to get Americans addicted to the crack cocaine of dependency on more government health care. When I hear quotes like this, I think of the lean years I went through. All the times I stood in front of the pharmacy counter, crying, as I was told my medications for a pre-existing condition would cost $300, $400, even $500.
And earlier this month, when the House voted to slash food stamps funding by almost $40 billion, I thought of how, in the 1990s, before EBT cards (that look and act like a regular debit card), I would count out, one by one, stiff, watermarked bills from a coupon book while my son looked on. I remembered how embarrassed I was and how much I wanted people to know I was going to schoolthat I wasnt going to be on welfare forever.
Time has proven that trueI havent needed the governments assistance since I finished law school. But even with a good support network, and as grateful as I am for the hand-me-downs and the Deacons fund, I know that without the governments financial assistance, I would never have made it to where I am today.
For people without a support network or the hope of higher education, resources are more limited than they were for me. Indeed, financial help and health care arent crack for those in need. They are the bare bones of existence, and they are the foundation necessary for generating the wherewithal to grab hold of what bootstraps are available, beginning the upward crawl, and working towards something better.