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“Nun on the Bus” Shows Congress How the Safety Net Improves Lives


At today’s House Budget Committee hearing, Sister Simone Campbell, the leader of “Nuns on the Bus” and executive director of NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, told several stories of how safety-net programs can reduce hardship and expand opportunity.  Here are excerpts from her prepared remarks:

The causes of poverty are complex and have changed over the years.  One of the biggest drivers of poverty right now is low wages. . . .

Please meet Billy from Milwaukee. He and his wife both work but their hours were cut back in the recession.  Their combined salaries kept a roof over their 2 boys’ heads.  They use SNAP [food stamps] to feed the kids during the day and St. Benedict the Moor [a nearby church] dining room in the evening.  Billy told me that it was okay for a parent to just eat once a day, but it wasn’t right for growing kids like his 14 year old boy.  SNAP, EITC [Earned Income Tax Credit], and CTC [Child Tax Credit] allow Billy and millions [of] others to care for their families while they continue to work.

But other families have more complex stories of struggle. For them, a network of programs can make all the difference.

Please meet Tia, [whom] I met in Iowa. Tia grew up in foster care and ran away at 16 because of mistreatment.  She thought that she needed to sleep with men to survive. When we met, she was 19 and had been homeless with two children.  This is a horrible scenario.  But you need to know . . . that then Tia was leaving the shelter run by Catholic Sisters and moving to transitional housing.  She had learned to cook and to be a better mother.  She got her GED and was working part time while studying in community college to become [a] Licensed Vocational Nurse.

This progress was because of federal programs that helped fund the shelter, transition housing, SNAP, Medicaid and a Pell grant as well as the love and care of the Sisters and staff.  Love and care alone were not enough.  It required significant funding from the federal government and [the] private sector and a dedicated staff.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for adults living in poverty is access to health care.  I know that some want the Affordable Care Act [ACA] repealed, but this desire ignores our nation’s need and the fact that the ACA is already helping to control costs.

Please meet Margaret Kistler, who lost her job in Cincinnati during the 2008 recession.  With no job she had no health insurance.  She could not afford COBRA coverage.  She knew she was at risk for colon cancer but could not afford the screenings.  When finally seen in the emergency room, she was terminally ill. Margaret died last year at age 56.

This is why the expansion of Medicaid in the ACA is so critical.  Had it been fully implemented in 2010, Margaret could have received screening [and] treatment and been a contributing member of society today.

For more on the impact of the safety net, see our recent posts here and here.