Homage to All Mothers
Today is Mother's Day. As most of the mothers with whom I work (all of whom have young children, infants to school age) point out, we can celebrate mothers in an ongoing basis every day. Nevertheless, this day is set aside to pay homage to our mothers. It's important to ask, though, how do we honor mothers living in poverty?
This day is particularly poignant for me because I've seen firsthand the courage and tenacity of women receiving welfare while caring for children. Raising a family in poverty is excruciating. Mothers make decisions about which bills are paid and which are not based on the family's need for food, shelter and health care monthly.
Around the country political leaders are taking a food stamp challenge to see if they can make ends meet on a food stamp budget. The average food stamp benefit is $1.16 per person per meal, which averages $113 a month for an individual and $200 for a family. The media will follow these stories for a bit but mothers will be trying to feed their families on $200 a month long after the news coverage stops and until policy is changed to increase food stamps and align benefits to regional food prices, which makes much more sense that the one-size-fits-all approach we have now.
All mothers know the importance of health care for young kids. A new report by the Georgetown Center for Children and Families (CCF) confirms that state governments are taking strong steps to strengthen and expand children’s health coverage, but we need federal policy commitments to strengthen and expand quality health care. Studies have shown that quality, affordable health care makes a dramatic difference in a child’s life chances.Congress has taken strong initial steps, and we need follow-through.
Women receiving welfare are 82% more likely to sustain employment if they have quality childcare[pdf]. But as the National Women's Law Center notes, most families do not qualify for childcare assistance even at the low, low income of about $32,000 a year for a family of three. Eligibility for assistance needs to drastically expand to be helpful for families who need childcare. We know quality childcare is essential and is sorely unavailable.
The Food Stamp Program helps strengthen families and the communities where those families reside (as consumers) and The National Journal recently identified the Food Stamp Program as one of government's top successes. These programs successfully support poor families and benefit us all. Why do politicians say they respect the role of mothers and the importance of families to our national well-being and yet these programs go begging for the money and commitment they need from government?
I remember the story of one mother I came across. Diane had two children, was in a shelter and going to college while receiving welfare. Diane was in her last semester when she was attending a welfare advocacy meeting where one of the other mothers receiving public benefits stood up and proudly announced she was "not like the other women on welfare who sleep all day and don't take care of her kids." After a strained silence, Diane got up and gently said to the woman, "Don't be too harsh on those other mothers. I was one of them....When my kids and I left my abusive husband and moved to a shelter, I was so depressed, I could barely get up to take them to school." Diane said, "I am almost ready to graduate and I have a job offer and my children's future has more possibility. Mine too."
Too often, politicians have grossly misrepresented mothers receiving welfare for their own political gain. Consequently, we have all suffered from cockamamie social policies based on cruel stereotypes and myths. Actually, mothers, poor low-income and middle class, are alike in their need for child-care, health care and nutritious food for their families to thrive.
On this Mother's Day I will remember the gallant, hard working, stressed-out but joyous women who are mothering in the real world of poverty. I ask that the next time you hear someone start to malign those "welfare mothers" you recount the story of Diane. She and millions like her deserve our respect and accolades. I think that is a fitting homage.