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Randi Schmidt's picture

Dear women nationwide,

My name is Randi Schmidt. I am a child advocate who is writing to every woman who, as a child, lived through economic hardships such as hunger, a parent losing their job, falling ill or dying, or whose family struggled to get by paycheck-to-paycheck. I ask you to remember who and what helped you when you were young and to speak out for the solutions that can help give all of our nation’s children the best opportunities today and for their future.

I am asking you this for a very personal reason. Like many of you, I grew up during a recession. Specifically, I grew up during the 1980’s recession, and in 1984, when I was nine years old, my father lost his job. It was a tough time for my family. I remember the biggest fear I had as a child was that my family would become homeless. Thankfully, there were programs that prevented that from happening. Unemployment insurance helped my parents keep a roof over our heads and stay in our apartment. Food stamps (now formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) put food on the table, and heating assistance helped us stay warm in the winter. And, because of medical assistance, my parents no longer had to worry about my sister or I not being able to see a doctor if one of us fell ill or got injured.

Eventually, my father took a job making $3.50 an hour – roughly minimum wage at the time- to feed a family of four. I remember my dad working two and up to three jobs at one point just to put food on our table and put a roof over our heads. My mother, who never worked while my younger sister and I were little, started working at a retail store and then ultimately became a nurse’s aide, which was hard physical labor for a woman who was 4’11 and 95 pounds. However, even then, after my parents found jobs, programs such as free and reduced school lunches helped my family make ends meet. And today, my mother, who is elderly and disabled, doesn’t have to choose between food and medicine because she receives Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and SNAP.

I am a fierce advocate for federally- funded services and programs that help children and families. But I don’t talk much about my experience with these programs. To do so makes me afraid of judgment- that some will call my family part of the 47%, “takers” not “makers”, or just refer to us as whatever offensive and derogatory term they can come up with this year. However, to own my own story is to own the truth.

And the truth is there are plenty of women like me in our nation.

• Women, who as children, grew up during a recession or an economic hardship in the 1980’s, 1990’s, 2000’s where our family struggled, and we got help through SNAP/Food Stamps, unemployment insurance or other vital programs.

• Women, who as young adults, went to college because of Pell Grants, work-study programs and student loans.

• Women who lived through a parent getting sick, becoming disabled or passing away, and where our family got help through Medicaid and/or Social Security.

As an adult and advocate, I know that I cannot do anything about what I or my family experienced when I was a child. I can’t go back and stop my father from losing his job or my mother from getting ill and eventually becoming disabled. But I take great comfort and strength in knowing that I CAN do something for children and families today. That is why for me, budgets are, and always will be, a children’s issue. I am asking that they be an issue for you, too.

This fall, Congress is making major decisions about the federal budget, including what important programs that impact the lives of children and families are, and are not, adequately funded- or even funded at all, including programs that assist children experiencing abuse and neglect.

In 2015, the federal budget funds a variety of programs important to children and families, including but not limited to: Medicaid; SNAP/Food Stamps; Unemployment Insurance; home visiting programs; child care; Head Start; school breakfast and lunch programs; K-12 education; afterschool programs; job training and college assistance programs; programs and services for children who are victims of child abuse or neglect, and programs and services for women who have survived domestic violence and sexual assault. Bottom line: the budget funds real programs and services that help America’s children and families; and this is why I, and our nation’s children and families, need you.

It is my experience that taxpayers want their hard-earned money to be spent on things that will add value to our nation and its people. And as a child advocate, I know that one of the most important ways to do that is to invest in our children. For just as adults are today’s workers, managers, parents, taxpayers, voters and leaders, our nation’s children are the next generation to take these critical roles. And just as we were once children who grew up to be competent, taxpaying adults who benefit society with our skills and talents, there are millions of girls and boys who can do the same,-provided they are given the right tools.  

Those tools include caring adults, a great education and a safe environment to live and grow. But they also include tangible things that help children, such as: child care and afterschool programs; health care and food; youth employment programs and affordable educational opportunities after high school. The problem is that unless adults who care about children speak up, Congress has no incentive to protect or invest in these critical programs. For example, a recent report by the Coalition on Human Needs found that since 2010, over 40 programs and funding streams important to children have been significantly cut, including those related to education, health, safety, and economic security.

So please, join me today in urging Congress to make children and their families a priority in the federal budget. Our nation’s children and their families deserve no less.

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