There is a certain pride that I always feel when I get my two boys ready for the day. Whether it’s turning on their lights in the morning while they are snuggled in a warm bed, or making them a healthy breakfast, I feel proud that I can provide for two curious, incredibly loving children. I do not take our life for granted because I know first-hand that not every kid has it so good.
I grew up poor, in a single-mother household in McKees Rocks for most of my childhood. As a child, I knew what it felt like to go to school with an empty stomach, to not go to the doctor when I was sick, and to feel ashamed for not having the same things that other kids did. I was too young to fully appreciate how hard it was for my mother to give us what she could. But as an adult, the struggle to make ends meet, despite how hard I work, is my day-to-day reality. And if the Republicans' tax reform bill passes the Senate, that struggle is about to become infinitely more difficult for hardworking Pennsylvanians like me.
I have worked tirelessly to ensure that my sons grow up with more than I had when I was young, and it’s been a long, hard-fought battle. For twelve years, I worked as a restaurant server, where my only source of income came from tips, and I received little to no benefits. Without a consistent income, it was hard for me to budget or save, but I worked long hours to provide for my family.
Despite picking up extra shifts, I still needed to supplement my income with assistance programs that helped me put nutritious food on the table, take my children to the doctor, cover child care costs, and heat and cool our home. These programs were a lifeline for me, and I am not alone: In my area of Pennsylvania, 62,000 people get their health care through Medicaid, and 35,000 receive healthy meals through food stamps.
But President Trump and Republicans in Congress have been promoting an agenda that would drastically cut the very programs that helped my family stay afloat. They have proposed tax breaks for the wealthy that would increase our national debt and lead to devastating cuts to funding for programs like Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. And if losing access to these programs was not bad enough, under this plan most working families earning less than $75,000 per year would have to pay more in taxes over the next decade.
Why are our nation’s leaders targeting hardworking families and cutting programs that help young children grow and thrive, just to give tax cuts to the ultra-wealthy? Shouldn’t every child have the opportunity to succeed, regardless of their family’s income or zip code?
Someone you know will likely be among the millions of people that will lose access to important services due to these cuts. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye when nearly two million Pennsylvanians could lose their health care and thousands of our neighbors could be left without a roof over their heads.
Substantial cuts to basics such as health care and affordable housing sends the message that families and children of lower socioeconomic status are not valued as much as those of higher socioeconomic status. Our elected leaders who are supporting these destructive program cuts in favor of wealthy tax breaks are creating a sense of divisiveness among all of us, rather than collectively supporting American children and working families.
I am forever grateful to have received help from these programs. Today, my children are both healthy, bright boys who know they are loved and that they can dream big. They are also proof that if we, as a society, decide to put our time, energy, resources, and faith into our children, they will be more likely to become successful, happy, and contributing members of society.
We cannot stand by and do nothing as lawmakers seek to strip families and children of programs that help meet their most basic needs. As a parent, that is not the type of example I will set for my children. I will be contacting my elected officials to ensure that policymakers consider families like mine when deciding on these proposed cuts, so that every little boy and girl can be warm and healthy in their homes this winter.
Kelly Ditson is a parent advocate and mother of two boys from McKees Rocks, currently residing in Jeanette PA.