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Talk About Poverty: Mariana Chilton's Questions for Obama and Romney

Reader Comment: Imani Sullivan, I could hug you ~ and it isn't just because we bear the same last names! Your question RAWKS: "As president, what would you do to encourage and facilitate more civic participation in America, and to ensure that our elected leaders are responsive to the needs of all American people, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or income?"

I am a low income (former) parent who worked 30+ hours a week. I also went to school full time and because of those low wages, we still needed assistance while TRYING to live under Welfare DeFormed. I became civically active after I was denied being able to go to school because that was not "work" nor was raising my children "work". The *only* "work" was working those low paying McJobs that keep women and their families in poverty for the rest of their lives. It is STILL this way for women today. Under Welfare DeFormed they are *not* allowed schooling or training,the care of their children they call "doing nothing" (actual quote of Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation who wrote the Welfare DeFormed bill), and they are pushed into some McJob.

Through a welfare rights group, I began to network with other women in other parts of the country and found out that they and their families were also suffering under those archaic rules.

Furthermore I found out that under my state laws and many other states, private contracting companies who are hired to force women into these McJobs are given BONUSES for every women who they get to work ~ and it has *nothing* to do with whether this job is a livable wage job or not ~ it is just about, "GET YOUR BUTT TO WORK OR I WILL SANCTION YOU AND YOUR KIDS AND YOU WILL FACE RAPE, STARVATION, ILLNESS, AND HOMELESSNESS BECAUSE YOU WILL ALL LIVE AT A BUS STOP!"

See, Ann Romney, well she "works" while raising her kids even though the people doing the REAL work is her army of nannies, maids, gardeners, cooks and chauffers. She was outraged that she was told she was "not working" while raising her kids. But a welfare mom raising kids to fight in our wars, pay our Social Security, run our country, and maintain our infrastructure, well raising those kids is "not working and doing nothing" for this country. The ONLY "work" a low income mom does is working that McJob making Ann Romney and her family richer. Give. Me. A. Break.

Meanwhile labor statistics say that a woman will lose on the average of $275,000 over a lifetime of paid work because of CARE GIVING. This is not only her kids whom she will give care, it is also her parents and then her spouse that take away those wages (which btw are at $.77 for every man's dollar). All who need 24/7 care that will give her little or no support to the care giver. The government will literally subsidize 1000% more for everyone else in the world to raise this woman's kids while working that McJob than they would to actually let her raise them. They subsidize ZERO, Nada, Ziltch for the care of her elders and spouse unless the weak and sick can help her in some way from out of their own resources (which most can't pay because they are poor themselves). This "not working" is all supposed to be done for free so that woman can go out and make some rich man richer while ignoring her own kids while they grow up. But Ann R-Money "works" while laying around on her pampered ass getting facials while the nannies wet nurse her precious boys. Give. Me. A. Break.

The truth is that it would take literally $billions to replace this "free" work that REAL women do and the R-Moneys of the world know it. $BILLIONS!

So now every year I stand in front of my legislators and TRY to educate them as to what is "work" and what is not "work". I do not want the following generations to live what my children and I have suffered, Parental absence is costing $millions because these kids have no loving adult guidance, particularly after the age of 13 when they need it the most. After the age of 13 all support goes away for these kids and their parents, when this is the time in their lives that these kids can get in the most trouble and face the most dire of consequences that can affect them for the rest of their lives. But sadly, I also stand before many supposed "allies" who do not listen and their "solutions" are beyond stupid because they refuse to listen.

Does this lack of caring make me want to give up? Hell no! You know why? Well I have been civically engagd now for over 20 years and let me tell you something: There is *nothing* better than to stand once again before the same legislators who refused to listen after the cost of maintaining the rich goes up,up, up and the cost of supporting families goes down, down, down with the threat of the falling middle class breathing down their necks. The Poverty Industrial Complex is Big Business with much of the upper classes living off the backs of the poor with jobs, tax deductions and tax havens. Without having to say a word, I stand there so they know I am the epitome of the, "I told you so ..." moment. There is a deep pride in knowing that with all those so-called clueless "experts" and their armies of paid workers who do nothing to stop poverty (but who are also living off the backs of the poor), that at least I stood there and SAID what I knew was true!

Cat in Seattle, board member of People Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights (POWER): http://www.mamapower.org

by Greg Kaufmann

This is the second post in TheNation.comâs #TalkPoverty seriesâan effort to push a deeper conversation about poverty into the mainstream political debate. The series profiles people working on poverty-related issues, and lays out the questions they want president Obama and Governor Romney to answer. You can read the first post here.

In 1989, when Dr. Mariana Chilton was a junior in college, she lived in Chile for a year working as an interpreter for a US reporter doing a story on âRelatives of the Detained and Disappeared.â It was just after Augusto Pinochet had been voted out of office.

Chilton traveled the Atacama Desert with âwives and daughters and sistersâ who were searching for hundreds of loved ones who had been murdered and buried in mass graves.

âThey were trying to call attentionâcarefullyâto finding their loved ones,â she told me. âPeople were starting to learn how to come out and talkâit took their enormous courage to break seventeen years of silence.â

Fifteen years later, as an associate professor at Drexel University School of Public Health and co-principal investigator for Childrenâs HealthWatch, that indelible experience of breaking the silence would change her work on poverty and nutrition at the Center for Hunger-Free Communities (@HungerFreeCtr).

She was testifying before Congress on the 2007 Farm Bill, offering data on food stamp benefits and how critical they are for childrenâs health.

âI literally watched the Congresspeopleâs eyes glaze over, and I thought, âWell this isnât doing it,ââ she said. âI thought of all the women that Iâd spoken to who had invited me into their homes to talk about hunger in the previous two years, and that they are the ones who needed to be testifying. The people most directly affected by food policy were being left out of the conversation. How do you get their stories out? How do you break through the silence?â

With an unrestricted $100,000 award from a foundation, she decided to give cameras to women living in poverty so that they could get their messages out through photographs and testimonials.

âIt was an attempt to have women speak directly to legislators at the local, state, and federal levelsâwith something real and tangible from their own experiences,â she said.

Some people thought Chilton was nutsâthat the women would end up selling the cameras, and her project would do nothing to help change policy. Chilton disagreed.

âWhether I was getting to know the relatives of the detained and disappeared, listening to their stories while wandering the desert; or sitting with women in their kitchens in Philadelphia and learning about what their experiences with hunger and poverty were likeâI always felt an absolute conviction that these stories needed to be heard,â she said.

Chilton had no idea whether the new projectâWitnesses to Hungerâwould work. But sitting on the sofa with Witness Barbie Izquierdo, and looking at the projectâs very first photograph that Izquierdo had taken of a neighborâs kitchen, Chilton vowed to get âher story, her presence, her photographsâ to the White House.

Within a year, the original forty Witnesses were invited to testify at the US Senate, and their photographs were exhibited in the Capitol Rotunda. There are now seventy-six Witnesses, and the project has sites in Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Providence, and soon, Camden, New Jersey. On August 5, Izquierdo did indeed make it to the White House. She and Chilton were invited there to discuss a new documentary film on hunger in America, A Place at the Table, and how it could energize a national movement to end hunger in this country.

Witnesses to Hunger is now working on a microfinance project that would help women build wealth through financial literacy training, nutrition education, access to banking services and small loans of less than $1,200. Groups of ten to fifteen women would meet weekly to encourage each other to save funds, repay loans and provide one another social support.

âYou can get a woman to the White House or Senate, but when she gets back to her home she still needs money. A low-wage job or two just isnât going to do it,â she said. âWhen they have opportunities to come together in groups, they help each other. And with small loans for their businesses like braiding, doing nails and hair, catering, house cleaning, providing childcareâthey can thrive as entrepreneurs.â

Chilton didnât want to be profiled nor did she want to provide questions for this postâshe asked that it be about the Witnesses and that the questions come directly from them. Only when I told her that I had already planned on speaking with Witnesses for a later post in the series would she cooperate. Neverthelessâperhaps thinking I was just another schmuck from the media who didnât truly give a damnâshe still consulted with Witnesses and her staff to come up with the following questions for President Obama and Governor Romney:

1) One quarter of Americaâs young children under age 6 are living in homes that are food insecureâmeaning their families report that they do not have money to buy enough food for an active and healthy life. Food insecurity negatively affects the cognitive, social and emotional development of young children. This cripples their readiness for school and future school performance. As president, what would you do about our growing hunger crisis in Americaâespecially for young children?

2) Before the recession, 70 percent of households with food-insecure children had at least one parent that was employed full-time. Such a high percentage of âworking hungryâ American families suggests that US corporations and businesses are not paying adequate wages for American families to keep food on the table. As president, what will you do not only to increase the number of jobs available, but to improve wages in order to help Americans feed themselves, their children, and afford basic necessities?

3) Currently, one in seven Americans (about 45 million peopleâhalf of whom are children) are receiving help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. SNAP is the single most important program to prevent hunger and promote healthy eating. In addition, healthcare research shows that SNAP prevents hospitalizations, promotes child development and improves school performance. The recent Farm Bill negotiations and proposed federal budget from the House recommended major cuts to the SNAP program. (There were significant cuts in the Senate version too.) These cuts will increase hunger and its associated costs that Americans will see in our schools, hospitals and pediatric clinics. As president, how will you ensure that elders, the disabled and families with children who receive help from SNAP will be protected during any budget negotiations?

4) Economists demonstrate that 40 percent of the people who are born into poverty will stay in poverty, suggesting very low mobility for poor Americans, and especially women. Low mobility disproportionately affects African-American and Latina women. If one looks at their wealthâthe total value of oneâs assets minus debtsâsingle African-American and single Latina women have a median wealth of about $100, while the median for single white women is $41,500. (This despite the fact that there were more white women in poverty in 2010 than African-American and Latina women combined; and white, African-American and Latina women participate in the cash assistance (TANF) program in equal proportions.) Around the world, leaders have recognized that investing in women and girlsâthrough group microfinance programs and access to banking services, for exampleâhelps not only to improve their lives but lift an entire nation and boost GDP. As president, what options will you consider to reform the cash assistance (TANF) program to improve mobility for women, and especially women of color?

5) Imani Sullivan, a member of Witnesses to Hunger, said: âWhy should I vote? The people in power donât care about me. They may say theyâre looking out for us. But once theyâre in office, they never do anything to help the poor. They forget all about us.â Imaniâs words reflect the frustration of Americans living in poverty who do not feel represented by their elected officials, who have lost faith in American democracy, and who feel they have no âplace at the table.â As president, what would you do to encourage and facilitate more civic participation in America, and to ensure that our elected leaders are responsive to the needs of all American people, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or income?

— Greg Kaufmann
The Nation blog





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